UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. (Jun. 14)
Twelve rabbis, two Jewish professors and the national coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry were arrested and charged with criminal trespass today after they handcuffed themselves to the United States Mission for two hours to protest the State Department’s alleged failure to take “meaningful” action to aid Soviet Jewry. Five of the rabbis had sat in at the Mission for three and a half hours June 9 following a larger, interfaith demonstration outside the building June 3. “We have not seen in this interval,” today’s group said, “any meaningful intent by our federal government for concrete action for Soviet Jews.” It added: Our handcuffs represent chained Soviet Jewry. It is our moral duty to cry out. If this can be in no other way than by civil disobedience, then we accept the consequences.” A Police Department spokesman said penalties in such a case were at the judge’s discretion, but added that in this particular case–with all the demonstrators first offenders–the charges would likely be dropped. Glenn Richter, the SSSJ leader arrested, noted to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that this was the “first bust” for himself and the other 14 demonstrators.
The demonstrators were demanding, as were the two previous demonstrating delegations, that President Nixon issue a “strong statement” on the plight of Soviet Jews and on the upcoming Kishinev trial of nine Jews; Yiddish and Hebrew broadcasts into Russia on the Voice of America facilities, and White House support for Rep. Edward I. Koch’s bill for 30,000 emergency visas for Soviet Jews. “This was not the first time the request had been made,” Richter noted before the police cut the 15 sets of handcuffs. “The State Department forced us into it,” he said of today’s action. “Whatever we have done in no way matches the courage of Soviet Jews.” A Mission official told the JTA: “We deplore this kind of demonstration. It doesn’t help the cause of Soviet Jewry or the democratic process.” He said “nothing can be done by the State Department” on the various demands by the protesters, except to participate in a consideration of changes in VOA broadcasts. “Extensive consideration” of that matter for more than 20 years, he said, has convinced the Department that Soviet Jews do not constitute a national group within the USSR and thus are not automatically entitled to Yiddish or Hebrew broadcasts. He said Mission activities were “considerably” affected by today’s demonstration, with diplomats having to be escorted in and out of side entrances. The formal complaint against the demonstrators was filed by the Federal Buildings Administration. Those arrested were released on personal recognizance and are due in court June 22, the day after the Kishinev trial is expected to begin.