Paris (Oct. 21)
French Jewish leaders who attended an unprecedented meeting last night with Soviet Ambassador Piotr Abrassimov at the Ambassador’s invitation, expressed the opinion today that the Soviet Union may have begun to recognize the magnitude and seriousness of the problem of Soviet Jews. That was the impression of Prof. Addy Steg, president of the Representative Council of French Jews. But Henrie Bulawke, president of the leftist Union of Former Jewish Resistance Fighters told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “many questions still remain unanswered. The problem has not been solved.” Abrassimov frankly appealed to the Jews to abstain from demonstrations during the forthcoming French visit of Soviet Communist Party Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, beginning next Monday.
One Jewish leader who asked that his name be withheld, told the JTA afterwards, “It might be worthwhile to give them a try. Who knows, maybe they will know how to show their appreciation.” Soviet anxiety for the safety of Brezhnev was increased by the physical assault made on Premier Alexsei N. Kosygin in Ottawa earlier this week by a Hungarian refugee despite stringent Canadian security measures. Several hundred KGB (Soviet secret police) agents reportedly have arrived in France to bolster measures being taken by French security forces. Several thousand French policemen have been assigned to protect Brezhnev on what will be the Soviet leader’s first trip to a Western nation.
The JTA learned today that French officials have interceded with Jewish organizations to cancel planned demonstrations or at least to keep the demonstrators under firm control. Jewish organizations were to hold a special meeting today to decide whether or not to go ahead with the demonstrations and if so on what scale. The 100 French Jewish leaders invited to the Soviet Embassy last night included representatives of “progressive” groups that have been favorably inclined toward Moscow, But they surprised the Russian envoy by asking some of the toughest questions about the condition of Jews. The questions posed related to the Leningrad trials and to emigration rights.
ISRAEL HAS RIGHT TO EXIST
Abrassimov was obviously at pains to “soften” up his guests. He related his childhood in a purely Jewish district of Vitebsk where, he said, he learned to speak Yiddish fluently. He spoke of his military service during World War II when “I went to the front with my three best friends, Levin, Berman and Rosenblum.” The Soviet Ambassador stressed that the USSR was the first state to recognize Israel in 1948 and declared that Russia “Never in the past and present and will never in the future deny Israel’s right to exist as a free and independent state.” He said Jews were free to leave the Soviet Union under existing Soviet law but “only Jews who might strengthen Israel’s military potential are not allowed to go.” According to Abrassimov, “there are at least some 60,000 top scientists and technicians of Jewish origin in the Soviet Union. They know all of our secrets.”
He added that the arrival of such 60,000 people in Israel, who together with their families make some 300,000 people, “would not only strengthen to an unbelievable degree Israel’s military potential, it would weaken that of the Soviet Union,” Referring to the defendants at the Leningrad hijack trials. Abrassimov said “it was a normal criminal case but the Western press turned the criminals into martyrs.” He said the trial was closed to the public because some of the defendants had threatened to kill a Soviet pilot. When one Jewish leader suggested that the occasion of Brezhnev’s visit to France be used to grant amnesty to Jewish prisoners, Abrassimov replied. “Why should an amnesty apply only to Jewish criminals? Why make exceptions on the criteria of race and religion?”