NEW YORK (Dec. 30)
Two Jewish organizations, the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry (GNYCSJ) and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), called 1982 a disaster for Soviet Jewry. Figures released by the two groups showed that the number of Jews allowed to emigrate from the USSR this year-was 2,670, the lowest since the two agencies started keeping records 12 years ago.
At a press conference yesterday, at the Association of the Bar, GNYCSJ chairman Dr. Seymour Lachman and NCSJ vice chairman Rabbi David Hill said the number of Jews allowed to emigrate in 1982 represented a drop of about 72 percent from 1981, when 9,447 Jews were allowed to leave. They also contrasted the figures for 1982 with those for 1979, when a record 51,320 Jews were permitted to emigrate.
Lachman, who is also the dean of the City University of New York, illustrated the enormity of the Soviet Jewish emigration problem when he held up four thick Manhattan telephone books.
“There are approximately three million names listed in these books,” he said, “the same as the number of Jews in the Soviet Union.” Lachman then ripped three pages from one of the books and put them aside. “These few pages represent the number of Jews who left the USSR in 1982,” he said. “The four books represent those Jews who remain.”
SAYS THE ROAD TO FREEDOM IS CLOSED
Lachman declared: “The road to freedom is now closed to Soviet Jews. The number of Jews allowed to emigrate in 1982 has plummeted by a staggering 95 percent in the past three years. In addition to bringing emigration to a halt, Soviet authorities continue their harsh crackdown on Jewish religious and cultural activities.”
“In short,” he added, “the final years of the Brezhnev regime were disastrous for Soviet Jews. Soviet authorities have systematically isolated Soviet Jews from the world Jewish community and from their historic, religious and cultural roots.
“It is time for the new Soviet leadership to put the Soviet Union back on the path of international law.”
Lachman specifically noted that although the Soviets had signed the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, they have consistently violated its human rights provisions.
GROWING SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM
Lachman pointed to a growing pattern of Soviet anti-Semitism. He said that he finds the reinstatement of a Jewish quota system in Soviet universities particularly disturbing. “The pattern of Soviet anti-Semitism is reminiscent of one of the worst features of Czarist Russia, with one difference — under the czars, Jews were allowed to emigrate. It is a tragic irony that we can make this observation today, exactly 60 years after the Soviet formed a new government in response to the repressive czarist regime.”
Lachman urged Western governments and world Jewry to “intensify their efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry and respond vigorously to Soviet oppression.” He outlined a two-step strategy.
“First,” he said, “Jews in Western countries must demonstrate to their national governments that the issue of Soviet Jewry is at the top of Jewish communal agendas. Second, Western governments must attempt to raise the issue of emigration and the treatment of Soviet Jewry at every meeting with Soviet officials, on all levels. Hill maintained that the Soviets had “tightened the reins” on Soviet Jews by arresting a number of long-term refuseniks, most recently Novosibirsk activist Feliks Kochubievsky, who received a two-and-a-half-year labor camp sentence.
Former Prisoner of Conscience losif Begun, exiled twice before, also was arrested recently and now awaits an unprecedented third trial and a long term in prison or labor camp. Although former Prisoner of Conscience Evgeny Lein was released from labor camp in mid-year, he has already been threatened with rearrest.
The status of two Jewish Prisoners of Conscience deteriorated significantly this past year, illustrating the endless injustice inflicted on Jews already suffering under the Soviet penal system.
Lachman cited the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, sentenced in 1978 to 13 years imprisonment, who undertook a hunger strike in September to protest his total isolation by Soviet authorities. He also mentioned that Aleksandr Paritsky, sentenced in 1981 to three years in a labor camp, was transferred in October to a strict regime prison as further punishment for refusing to recant his “crimes.”
PRESSURE AGAINST JEWISH LIFE
Hill stressed that Soviet pressure is being directed against all facets of Jewish cultural and religious life. “Hebrew teachers are severely harassed because of their efforts to promote the historic language of their people,” he said. Yuli Kosharovsky and Ravel Abramovich, of Moscow, were forced to curtail their Hebrew instruction following threats of arrest and harm to their families.
“Fortunately,” said Hill, “they and others persist in carrying out this vital mission. Hebrew is a life-line for all Jews, and those who care will not allow it to be cut.” He also reported that KGB raids on the homes of Hebrew teachers in several major Soviet cities are “further evidence that the campaign to crush Hebrew study is sweeping the country.”
Lachman concluded by saying that Jewish emigration is a “litmus test for the acceptability of Soviet behavior.” He called upon Yuri Andropov, the new Soviet leader, to demonstrate that the USSR can live in a society of free nations, within the bounds of international agreements on basic human rights. “Let Soviet Jews live as Jews,” he declared, “or let them leave.”