HOUSTON (Aug. 4)
B’nai B’rith’s board of governors voted yesterday to test Soviet sincerity for the Helsinki declaration calling for the “free flow of peoples, ideas and information” by seeking to send an official delegation to the Soviet Union to meet with both Jewish activists and Soviet officials.
B’nai B’rith President David M. Blumberg, who introduced the proposal at the organization’s board of governors’ biannual meeting here, said the purpose of the delegation would be to establish regular religious and cultural ties with Soviet Jews and consult with Soviet authorities on liberalizing emigration policies, accelerating “reunion of families” and restoring Jewish communal life under Soviet law. “If Helsinki is a step toward genuine detente, then there should be a parallel step forward for Soviet Jews,” Blumberg said. His proposal was endorsed by a large majority of the 102-member board of governors.
MINORITY OBJECTS TO MOVE
Objectors to the move, a small minority, argued that even if Soviet authorities agreed to a formal delegation, the efforts of the group would likely be futile in view of past Soviet behavior on human rights issues.
But proponents urged against “prejudgments,” maintaining that the action, while a test of Soviet sincerity, also demonstrates continuing concern for the right of free emigration and for the survival of a Jewish cultural life in the USSR. Blumberg said that the proposed delegation would also include leaders of B’nai B’rith affiliates from countries outside the United States.
A Senior B’nai B’rith official suggested here that the Helsinki agreement offers the Soviets a face-saving way of liberalizing its emigration policies. “The Soviets can ascribe the relaxation of their arbitrary restrictions to the voluntary multilateral agreements concluded in Helsinki and continue to reject claims that they are bowing to the Jackson Amendment,” he said.
URGE ACTION AGAINST UN TAKEOVER
In a related development, the B’nai B’rith also called for “aggressive diplomacy” by the West to resist a Third World takeover of the United Nations. Such a takeover, they said, “could mean finish to the world organization as a viable institution,” They endorsed recent moves by Congress and the State Department pointing to a possible American withdrawal from the next General Assembly and a cutoff of U.S. funds if an Arab prompted campaign to suspend Israel succeeds.
But Blumberg said such “last resort” action “would likely diminish the UN beyond repair.” He noted that “despite its defects and weakness, the UN is too valuable as an instrument for international exchange to be surrendered by its founders to a Third World cabal engaged in irrational diplomacy.”
Blumberg said that public disillusionment with the UN should be expressed “in efforts to make it more responsive to its avowed purpose” rather than abandoning it to a “meaningless majority of small nations who would suffer most if it collapses.” He said that the capacity of Western power to apply “diplomatic strength” had to be shown before the foreign ministers of some 70 non-aligned nations convene for a conference this month in Lima, Peru.
The B’nai B’rith leader also called the issue “another test” of the Soviet Union’s sincerity about detente. “The Soviet Union has persuasive influence over Syria and other client states,” he said, “Detente should mean something more than a handshake in space or buying wheat at a bargain price.”