WASHINGTON (Oct. 24)
Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have joined Sen. Charles Percy (R. Ill.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in sending a letter to Soviet President Konstantin Chernenenko today, urging the Soviet Union to allow Jews and other minorities to practice their religion freely and to emigrate if they wished.
The letter, organized by Percy, was also signed by four former Secretaries of State, Dean Rusk, William Rogers, Cyrus Vance and Alexander Haig; and three religious leaders, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago, Archbishop lakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, and the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University.
All are members of the Advisory Council on Religious Rights in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which Percy heads, and of which Carter and Ford are honorary co-chairman.
LETTER EXPRESSES BIPARTISAN CONCERN
“Citizens around the world, and Americans of all parties, faith and national origin, are very concerned at this time about the plight of the Soviet Jewish community and other religious minorities in the Soviet Union, “the letter, which was mailed directly to Chernenko in Moscow, said. “We are writing jointly to appeal for their right to practice their religions freely and to emigrate to other nations if they choose.”
Percy began circulating the letter three to four weeks ago and completed gathering the signatures today. By coincidence, it was mailed following Secretary of State George Shultz’ speech to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry on Monday in which Shultz said the situation of Soviet Jews “remains grim” and persecution “seems to be getting worse.”
Shultz pledged to continue to stress the plight of Soviet Jewry and other human rights issues in all diplomatic dealings with the Soviet Union but there is a feeling by the signers of the letter that if the Soviets want to make a “gesture” to the West by improving conditions for Jews, they might be more willing to do so for a non-governmental group which included two former Presidents.
SOVIET JEWISH SITUATION TERMED BLEAK
“The situation of the Soviet Jews is bleak and it is worsening, “Percy said today. “I believe we must do whatever we can to help the Soviet Jewish community at this time and that is why I have organized this joint appeal.”
Percy added that the letter to Chernenko “demonstrates that a bipartisan interfaith and broad spectrum of leaders of our country consider the plight of Soviet Jewry a matter of urgent and grave concern.”
The letter noted that the signatories “are deeply concerned about the tremendous decline in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union over the past ten years,” going from 34,758 in 1973 to 1,315 in 1983. The peak year was 1979 when 51,320 emigrated. “As of September 20, only 721 Jews have been allowed to repatriate, ” the letter pointed out.
The signatories also expressed their concern “about the continuing difficulties experienced by Soviet Jewish citizens who wish to practice their faith or teach Hebrew. Jews have also suffered discrimination in education and unemployment.”
SEVERAL REFUSENIKS CITED
The letter names several Soviet Jewish refuseniks who have received prison sentences — Anatoly Shcharansky, Ida Nudel, losef Begun and Yaacov Gordatsky. Also named is Abe Stolar, a Chicago-born American citizen, who went to the Soviet Union in the 1930′s with his parents and has been trying to return to the United States.
The letter urged Chernenko “to fulfill your commitments with respect to emigration and religious freedom” under the Helsinki Final Act, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.