39 Soviet Jews Proclaim Right to Remain Jews and to Emigrate to Israel

A statement proclaiming their “right to remain Jews, to educate our children in the spirit of Jewish culture” and to emigrate to Israel was made public in Moscow yesterday by a group of 39 Jewish residents of the Soviet capital. The statement also denounced the Soviet Union’s bitter anti-Israel campaign and criticized Jews who have achieved prominence in Soviet life but have not “preserved their spiritual links with Jewish national culture.” The signers of the statement were mostly professionals, physicians and engineers. A few listed their occupations as housewives or workers. Unlike the Jews who signed anti-Israel declarations, none are public figures. What Western observers considered most daring was their denunciation of Soviet Middle East policy.

“The military events in the Middle East have once more been used to make anti-Israel propaganda,” the statement said. “This is a shameful propagandistic thrust, for the war is a great disaster and if Arabs too, are perishing in this war, it does not make Jews any happier.” The 39 noted that “the emotional heat of anti-Israeli propaganda is now very great” and said it was a “myth” to describe Israel as “reactionary and imperialist.” The statement, titled “Open Proclamation” was sent several days ago to Leonid M. Zamyatin, head of the Foreign Ministry’s press department. The signatories declared that they were ready to emigrate to Israel on foot if necessary and asked for permission “to appear at a news conference before Soviet and foreign journalists and make a declaration.” The statement was made available by members of the group to Western newsmen yesterday.

It was clearly the most daring and defiant challenge to the official Soviet Government attitude toward Israel and its own Jewish citizens ever made publicly by Jews in the USSR. The statement was aimed directly against the Kremlin’s current campaign of denunciation of Israel and Zionism in which scores of prominent Soviet Jews have been enlisted. It criticized as “one-sided” a press conference held in Moscow a week ago, under Mr. Zamyatin’s chairmanship, at which leading Jewish academicians, artists, writers, scientists and military officers branded Israel an aggressor and proclaimed the Soviet Union as the only “motherland” of Russian Jewry. It said that those who appeared at the press conference and other Jews who signed anti-Israel declarations in recent weeks did not represent the views of all Soviet Jews but “only a certain, if numerous, part of Soviet Jewry.”

According to the signatories, 80,000 families have applied for emigration to Israel since 1968 when Soviet authorities began accepting applications after the June, 1967 Arab-Israel War. They said that all but a very few of the applications were rejected. The statement acknowledged that “Every Jew has, of course, the right to any degree of assimilation. We however, do not want to forfeit our national identity and our spiritual link with our people.” The statement specifically mentioned that there were no Yiddish language schools in the Soviet Union and that Jews lacked the educational facilities in their native tongue possessed by most other ethnic minorities in the USSR.

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