NEW YORK (Jan. 31)
New York City police, apparently working in liaison with Federal Authorities, maintained a close watch on Carnegie Hall over the week-end to prevent new attempts to disrupt the performances of the Siberian Dancers and Singers from Omsk, the latest group of Soviet artists to tour the United States under the U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange program. Designated a “target” by Jewish student activists protesting the mistreatment of Jews in the USSR, their opening on Thursday night was delayed for nearly an hour by a bomb scare and the release of ammonia fumes in the Hall which forced hundreds of ticket-holders to leave their seats.
Subsequent performances on Friday night, Saturday matinee and Saturday night were held without incident. A spokesman for Carnegie Hall told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Hall was “half empty” for every performance except the Sunday matinee. He said there had been cancellations but did not say how many. It was believed that the cancellations stemmed from fear of new incidents and were not a protest against the appearance of the Russian troupe.
About 80 uniformed policemen were deployed in and around Carnegie Hall for the Sunday afternoon performance, according to a spokesman. A group of youngsters distributed leaflets a block away from the Hall. A peaceful demonstration was held outside the recital building on Friday night. Glenn Richter, national coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, told the JTA that its Five Towns chapter was involved. But he disclaimed responsibility for Thursday night’s ammonia attack and bomb scare.
The bomb scare was touched off by anonymous telephone calls to news media. The callers used the slogan “Never Again,” the slogan of the Jewish Defense League. Some sources identified the caller with the SSSJ but Richter denied that any member of his group was involved. Sources familiar with the fragmented student activist movement said the bomb-scare was the work of the Student Activists for Soviet Jewry, a group formed in Brooklyn two months ago which includes JDL members.
The incidents occurred Thursday despite the State Department’s announced avowal to stop them. Department personnel did not maintain a “presence” at the Hall, but sought to impress on the New York Police the importance of keeping order.
Referring to the Thursday night disturbance, a State Department spokesman told the JTA that: “Obviously we cannot guarantee these incidents will not occur, despite our best efforts.” According to the spokesman, the Department apologized to the Soviet Embassy. The disruptions were vehemently denounced by the Soviet Communist Party newspaper Pravda, which accused American officials of “turning a blind eye” to the violations of the cultural exchange program between the two countries.
(Anthony Astrachan, a Washington Post correspondent whose reports have included front-page news about the difficulties of Soviet Jews, was seized and detained by five unidentified men in Moscow a week ago, State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey disclosed Thursday. McCloskey declined to say whether the State Department believed the assault was directly related to the Soviet Jewry issue. Astrachan was assaulted after he tried to speak to a Soviet citizen.
A high Department official commented that “obviously, there is concern in the Soviet Union with the voices of dissent whose emotions and concerns are portrayed to the outside world.” At his daily news briefing. McCloskey said Astrachan had been attacked after parking his car and emerging from it, and that the car’s tail-light had been damaged. He said the United States had protested the incident soon after but had as yet received no reply from the Kremlin.)