BRUSSELS (Feb. 19)
The second World Conference on Soviet Jewry ended its three days of meetings here today with a declaration calling on the Soviet Union to implement the Helsinki declaration of human rights, respect its own constitution and laws and “recognize and respect the right of Jews in the USSR to be united with their brethren in the Land of Israel, the Jewish historic homeland.” The declaration was read to the conference by David Blumberg, president of B’nai B’rith.
Brussels II was essentially a talk shop–a place where people spoke words, listened to words and exchanged words for hours on end. But, as one delegate noted, “since the days of the Bible, words have been our main weapon.” The conference laid particular stress on the need for Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, although it also called for religious freedom and the rights of Jews in Russia to develop their cultural heritage and language.
There was never any real conflict or divergence between the more committed Zionist elements and the lesser committed. But there were differences of nuance and equilibrium and apparently the more militant Zionist elements within the conference presidium won the day.
This was not surprising because while certain Jewish leaders from abroad, notably Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Philip Klutznick and Raymond Epstein from the U.S., and Claude Kellman, and Alain de Rothschild of France addressed themselves to the problem of Soviet Jews in more sophisticated and wordly terms–without diminishing the intensity of their determination, courage and solidarity with Soviet Jewry–the mass of the more than 1000 delegates from 30 countries were rank-and-file militants and activists without whom the struggle for Soviet Jewry could not continue.
Jewish leaders said that keeping up the spirits and enthusiasm of these elements was just as important as any other purpose of the conference.
CERTAIN DEGREE OF CONTROL
The main substantive result of Brussels II was the decision by the presidium and steering committee to exert a certain degree of control over world-wide activities on behalf of Soviet Jews. The exact form this will take remains to be decided. Some delegates want a specialized organization. Others like Klutznick, chairman of the Board of Governors of the World Jewish Congress, and Likud leader Menachem Beigin, called for a permanent secretariate to oversee and supervise activities.
Whatever formula is adopted, it is clear that Brussels II marks a moving away from the present situation where all campaigns on behalf of Soviet Jewry were conducted without coordination in depth world-wide by Jewish organizations.
At the final session of Brussels II, Yosef Almogi, chairman of the World Zionist Organization Executive and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, read a statement indicating that the conference would be continued in some permanent form. Almogi, who was president of the conference, said: “I have requested the presidium and steering committee to hold consultations at the earliest possible date with the convening bodies and others about the appropriate means and structure to conduct and coordinate this campaign” on behalf of Soviet Jewry.” The presidium agreed to do so.
NOT A DEBATING SOCIETY
Actually Brussels II was not called, as its spokesmen made clear from the start, to discuss or debate policy or tactics but to serve as a rallying point and spotlight on the plight of Soviet Jewry. According to all observers, this objective was achieved. The world press focussed on the situation of Jews in the Soviet Union and informed public opinion of Moscow’s refusal to respect and honor its own constitution and laws as well as the Helsinki declaration which it signed.
On the other hand, the failure to attract important non-Jewish personalities–except for a U.S. Congressional delegation headed by Sen. Frank Church (D.Idaho)–demonstrated that Israel and world Jewry must count mainly on themselves to succeed in their struggles.
It was apparent from the vehement Soviet reaction to the conference that Brussels II achieved some of its objectives. An officially sponsored Soviet Jewish delegation was sent to Brussels before the conference opened and throughout its sessions tried to lobby the press and various observers to convince them that Brussels II was nothing more than a Zionist plot to discredit the Soviet Union. But they apparently had little success.
The only jarring note was the eviction of Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League, from the conference hall yesterday, a replay of the Brussels I incident five years ago. While many delegates, probably the vast majority, approved the conference’s refusal to give Kahane a platform, many deplored the vigorous manner in which security guards and police ousted him.
One delegate, who identified himself as a rabbi from New York, said after witnessing Kahane’s ejection that it was “outrageous.” He also recalled Kahane’s shouting, as he was carried bodily from the conference hall lobby: “I have been to jail for Soviet Jewry and these fat, rich Jews prevent me from speaking.”
INSPIRED BY SOVIET JEWISH OLIM
More inspiring was the presence here of hundreds of Soviet Jews who have immigrated to Israel. Some, like Sylva Zalmanson and dozens of other women have husbands, brothers, fathers or sons in Soviet prison camps. Thirty-five Soviet Jews were members of the Israeli delegation and hundreds more came from Israel as observers, people whose own suffering bore witness to the plight of Jews in the USSR.