Former Soviet Jews in Israel Warn Against Expecting Better Conditions for Jews from Gorbachev

Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union warned today that it was foolish and dangerous to assume that the change of leadership in the Kremlin would end repressive measures against Jews in the USSR.

Addressing a press conference here, members of the Israel Information Center on Soviet Jewry maintained that with respect to Jews, the policies of the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, would be no different from those of his predecessors. They spoke scornfully of the view expressed in some Western circles that Gorbachev, the youngest Soviet leader since Stalin seized the reins of power on Lenin’s death, heralded a new, better era in Soviet policy.

“He may be good looking, well dressed, and so is his wife,” speakers said, but that has no bearing on his policy towards Jews. They described Gorbachev as a bureaucrat who began his career in the Stalin era and could therefore be described as a disciple of the late Soviet dictator. World-wide optimism over his ascension to power is misplaced, serves Soviet interests and allows them to continue their repression of Jews, they said.

SWIFT ELEVATION IS WARNING

Yosef Mendelevich, chairman of the Center, who served time in Soviet prisons for his activism on behalf of Jewish emigration rights, said the swift elevation of Gorbachev to the office of General Secretary of the Communist Party within hours of the death of President Konstantin Chernenko should serve as a warning that no changes are in the offing.

According to Mendelevich, Gorbachev was the defacto leader in recent months when Chernenko was immobilized by ill health. In that period, he noted, there was not only no improvement in the situation of Soviet Jews but it in fact deteriorated.

Other speakers cited individual cases as examples of the worsening treatment of Soviet Jews in recent months. Dan Shapiro, a Jewish activist who asked for and received Israeli citizenship while living in the USSR, was arrested. The conditions under which Aleksandr Kholmiansky and Yosef Bernstein are imprisoned have worsened. In the past six-months, Kholmiansky went on a hunger strike. He was force-fed. Bernstein was attacked by inmates serving time for criminal offenses and almost lost his vision. The prison authorities transferred him to a labor camp where, despite his poor health, he is forced to do hard labor.

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