Knesset Suspends All Business to Discuss Plight of Soviet Jews and Trial

The Knesset suspended all business today for a special session to discuss the plight of Soviet Jews and the immediate crisis of those who went on trial in Leningrad yesterday. By acclamation, the chamber adopted a resolution urging Soviet authorities to release all of the defendants and to permit Russian Jews who so wish, to emigrate to Israel. The resolution called for the support of free parliamentary bodies all over the world and enlightened public opinion in bringing the trial to an end. The resolution was supported by all factions except the pro-Moscow “Rakach” Communists. The session, attended by President Zalman Shazar, heard an impassioned plea by Deputy Premier Yigal Allon to the Soviet government to permit Jewish emigration. He said the Soviet Union was obliged to do this under the Human Rights Convention of which it is a signatory. Speaking of the Leningrad trial, Allon said “of the 11 accused, nine names are known and seven of them are undoubtedly Jewish. But even if there is a number of non-Jews among the accused–and our hearts bleed for them as well–nothing can disguise the outspokenly anti-Semitic character of this trial.”

According to reliable sources, the Leningrad defendants have been charged with “banditry and treason” arising from their alleged attempt to hijack a Soviet airliner at Smolny Airport near Leningrad last June. Under the Soviet criminal code, they could face the death penalty if convicted. Jewish sources have claimed that the evidence was manufactured by the Soviet secret police and that the trial is intended to intimidate other Jews seeking to leave Russia. Allon said. “This is not the first time in our history that we have to serve as whipping boys for foreign regimes. This is nothing new. Anti-Semitism has always been a weapon of despotic systems. It may well be that in the course of the trial we shall hear some ‘confessions’ as we had been used to hearing during the Stalin era which we thought was over.” Allon claimed that the Soviet regime was resorting to repression and intimidation because it failed in other methods to force Jews to assimilate. He said the Soviet government claimed that only a small fraction of Russian Jews wanted to go to Israel. “If that is so, why then is this small fraction denied permission to emigrate? Why does (Soviet Premier Alexei N.) Kosygin not keep his promise?” he asked.

“In the name of the Israel government.” Allon declared, “I call on the Soviet Union to end its policy of anti-Jewish discrimination and to permit all those of its Jewish citizens who so desire to reunite with their brethren in Israel…We all speak with one voice in defending the Jews of the Soviet Union.” Allon’s address was followed by statements by representatives of the various factions in the Knesset. Haim Landau, of Herut, suggested that all Soviet Jews be declared citizens of Israel. Moshe Baram of the Labor Party, stressed that the Knesset’s action today should not be misconstrued as interference in Soviet internal affairs. Zevulun Hammer, of the National Religious Party wanted some action taken to have the Leningrad trial opened to the public. In related developments today, the Israel Students Association cabled Pope Paul and leaders of the Western powers to protest against the Leningrad trial and intervene with Soviet authorities. Classes at the Hebrew University were suspended for two hours for a demonstration of solidarity with the accused in Leningrad. The Association of Zionist Prisoners from the Soviet Union held a fast and prayer service at the Wailing Wall. Housing Minister Zeev Sharef said in an address today that “It is the duty of the Israeli government and world Jewry to defend these Jews…We have a great responsibility toward them, facing as they do, a brutal regime.”

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