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Jewish Leader Feels Public Opinion Played Major Role in U.S. Decision on Rigermans

A leader of American Jewish protests against the treatment of Russian Jews told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that he thought the pressure of public opinion played a major role in the State Department’s affirmative decision on the claim for American citizenship filed by a 30-year-old Moscow Jew, Leonid Rigerman. The State Department announced last week that Rigerman and his mother, Mrs. Esther Michael-Rigerman, are now legally U.S. citizens, a status strongly disputed by Soviet authorities Rabbi Herschel Schacter, chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, said in response to questions by the JTA that it was difficult to ascertain the motivation of the State Department’s action. However, he said, “unquestionably, much of the decision was motivated by pressure and public opinion in the U.S.” He noted that “many people communicated with the State Department and many Congressmen signed a letter” to Secretary of State William P. Rogers urging a positive finding in the Rigerman case. The question looming in Washington today is how the U.S. intends to implement its ruling on Rigerman. Rabbi Schacter said the next step “is not clear. It depends on heather the Russians will give them (the Rigermans) exit visas.” He added that persistent efforts by the State Department would determine what the Russians will do.

One U.S. official said after the Rigerman decision was announced that “We will assist them in a reasonable and appropriate manner if that is their desire.” But he declined to speculate what the U.S. position would be if the Rigermans were to seek asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Since filing hit. claim last September, Rigerman has been harassed by Soviet authorities. He was barred by police from entering the U.S. Embassy on three occasions and last month was arrested on the Embassy steps and imprisoned for seven days on charges of resisting an officer. Rigerman based his claim for U.S. citizenship on the fact that his mother was born in America and his father was a naturalized U.S. citizen. Robert W. Becker, the State Department spokesman who announced the ruling in his case, said that on the basis of information supplied by Rigerman and his mother, it was decided that both are U.S. citizens and Rigerman “acquired United States citizenship at birth.”

There was no Indication why the U.S. announced its ruling at this time inasmuch as it had been withholding a decision since September on grounds that the information to corroborate Rigerman’s claim was too scant. Some sources said the U.S. may have acted because further delays might have increased the likelihood of Soviet police repression against the Rigermens. Daniel Greer, a New York City official and attorney who volunteered his legal services to help press Rigerman’s claim, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that he was “very delighted” by the State Department’s decision. However, according to Greer, it is too soon to say when Rigerman will arrive in the U.S. He said the procedure is that Rigerman’s American relatives–his uncle Louis Michael or his grandfather, Jacob Michael, of the Bronx–will write to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow requesting his departure. Greer said he was sure the U.S. would “make every effort” to affect his departure. Asked by the JTA if he thought the U.S. might try to engineer a deal with the Soviet authorities to release Rigerman in return for official U.S. silence on the Leningrad trial, Greer replied that such a deal would be “unconscionable.” He said there was no indication of such an offer by the U.S.

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