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Cancellation of Bolshoi, Opera Tour in U.S. Seen As Ploy to Prevent Defections

Cancellation by the Soviet government of a tour next May in the United States by the Bolshi Ballet and opera troupe was regarded here as “a flimsy excuse” to avert possible defections by Soviet artists. Jacob Beam, U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, was informed of the cancellation while he was protesting the prevention of a visit to the Embassy in Moscow of a Soviet Jew, Leonid Rigerman, who is seeking to establish U.S. citizenship. Later, Izvestia charged the cancellation was caused by the actions of “Zionist extremists” who threatened “the personal safety of Soviet citizens.” Dr. Isaac Franck, executive vice-president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, a leader in the protests against Soviet abuse of Russian Jews, said about the cancellation “this is obviously a flimsy excuse. The real reason for the cancelling probably is that each time the Bolshoi has gone on tour outside of Russia one or more members of the troupe have defected. They are afraid of losing more people. Moreover, there never has been any violence in connection with the Bolshoi. There have been legitimate community protests against the oppression of Soviet Jewry.”

Dr. Franck said if the Soviets were referring to the pre-Thanksgiving day bombing of the Aeroflot building in New York, this was “vigorously denounced by all responsible Jewish and Zionist organizations.” It was recalled that when the Moiseyev Dance Company performed in Washington and Baltimore, Jewish students disrupted the start of the programs by blowing shofars and singing Hebrew songs but there was no threat to the personal safety of any of the performers. Izvestia charged that the “Zionist militants” were creating obstacles to the implementation of official functions of the Soviet establishments and were jeopardizing the cultural exchanges between Russia and the United States. Beam had gone to the Soviet Foreign Ministry to present a strongly worded statement protesting the actions by Soviet police in repeatedly denying Rigerman access to the U.S. Embassy on “legitimate consular business.”

State Department spokesman John King said the note pointed out that the acts were in violation of the provisions of the consular convention pertaining to the right of consular officers to carry out their duties, which include making the necessary determinations in connection with registrations of United States citizens. Dore Schary, New York City Commissioner for Public Affairs and honorary chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, called the Soviet explanation nonsense and said that from the Soviet viewpoint “everything is a Zionist-imperialist conspiracy.” The Izvestia reference to “provocations of Zionist thugs” was generally assumed to refer to the Jewish Defense League. A spokesman for the JDL in New York said “We will continue to dramatize the plight of the Soviet Jews in any way we can until they are given their freedom and allowed to leave for Israel.”

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