JERUSALEM (Jan. 23)
Premier Menachem Begin opened today’s Knesset session with a special statement in praise of Russian human rights activist and dissident Andrei Sakharov who was arrested in Moscow yesterday and sent into internal exile at Gorky, a city closed to foreigners because it is a military industry center.
The Israeli leader praised Sakharov, a Nobel Laureate in physics, as one of the “bravest people of our time” who gave up the scientific career that won him world fame in order to fight for the “basic and sacred human rights.”
Begin referred to Sakharov’s efforts on behalf of Jewish dissidents and Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR. “From the podium of the Knesset we send him our blessings and we demand his release. We join free people throughout the world in this demand,” Begin said. The Premier’s remarks reflected outrage over the Soviet government’s treatment of Sakharov and mounting concern in Israel that this may herald a new crackdown on dissidents in general and on Jews seeking to emigrate.
DECREASE IN VISAS NOTED
Rafaek Kotlowitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s immigration and absorption department, appeared uncertain today as to whether or not the recent decease in the number of visas issued to Soviet Jews was a manifestation of the some wave of oppression that engulfed Sakharov. Kotlowitz told a press conference in Tel Aviv that the drop in visas may be due to the fact that most Jews leaving the Soviet Union are going to the U.S.
He reported that the drop-out rote was 63 percent during the first three weeks of January, a slight decrease from the 65 percent rate in December. The average drop-out rate in 1979 was 66.3 percent, meaning that exactly two-thirds of the Jews allowed to emigrate from the USSR chose to go to countries other than Israel.
On the other hand, Kotlowitz noted that in 1979, 51, 317 Jews left the Soviet Union, a 43 percent increase over the previous year. Therefore, he said, Israel should not “close off options” in its relations with Moscow. He cautioned specifically against making hasty decisions with respect to Israel’s participation in the Olympic Games in Moscow next summer.
GREATER DIFFICULTIES CITED
A more pessimistic view was expressed today by Soviet emigre Alexander Levin. In an interview with Kol Israel Radio, Levin said that the Soviet Union was experiencing internal difficulties which means greater obstacles to Jews seeking to leave because “Jews are always the first candidates for any repression.” Levin contended that the liberalization era in Soviet polities has ended and that the invasion of Afghanistan signaled a return of the hardliners to power in Moscow.
(In New York, statements of support for Sakharov and denunciations of the Soviet Union for exiling the scientist were issued by the World Jewish Congress and American Jewish Congress president Howard Squadron. The WJ Congress stated: “The silencing of the noble voice of Sakharov can only do harm to detente and international understanding.” Squadron said: “No matter where the Soviet Union exiles Andrei Sakharov, his message and his example will continue to reach and to inspire all those who yearn for freedom and who struggle for human dignity.”)