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Soviet Jewry Movement Challenged

More than 200 leaders of the Soviet Jewry movement heard and urgent warning that a strategy of protest and opposition may no longer be effective as the sole weapon in the movement’s arsenal of tactics for the coming decade. A challenge was issued to the Leadership Assembly of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry to explore, and even encourage, new areas of U.S. -Soviet interaction as a means of expanding opportunities for the exertion of human rights leverage.

Keynoting the assembly last Sunday, Joseph Papp, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, pointed to his recent meetings in Moscow with Soviet officials for the purpose of developing a cultural exchange theater program. “I believe that in the long range interest of the Soviet Jews … and in the interest of promoting the cause of freedom everywhere … the American ideology must be exported more aggressively.” He added: “I feel it is in our interest as Americans and as Jews to maintain some relationship with the Soviet Union, fully recognizing that it is a repressive state.”

This theme was reinforced throughout the day-long program in presentations by leading academics and media professionals. Maurice Friedberg, chairman of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature in the University of Illinois, emphasized that the Soviet Jewry movement’s goals should now be linked to those of other dissident groups who shore their objectives.

“We have come to realize that the things which unite us are far more urgent than cultural or even political differences. Above all, the Soviets must not view us as non-responsive. They must not be lead to expect either unremitting friendship or enmity. The results of our campaigns must be announced … and our position constantly reassessed.”

Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor of Political Science in Yale University, stressed that with all of the harassment, oppression and spurts of open anti-Semitism in the USSR an alert must be maintained to any liberalization of Soviet policy to ward dissidents and the Jewish population.

The human rights position was put into global perspective when Dahl observed that of 180 nations in the world there are no more than 30 countries in which individual rights are tolerated. “The development of any ‘rights’ in the Soviet Union is a profound threat to the regime itself. But, the Soviet Jewry movement can do an effective job of applying selective pressure through demonstrations and constantly focusing world attention on these issues.”

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