WASHINGTON (Jun. 18)
Thirty-three Congressmen have signed a letter addressed to Attorney General Edwin Meese III asking him why the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia is prosecuting 24 rabbis and one Lutheran minister who were arrested last month for protesting in front of the Soviet Embassy.
The letter, which is dated June 11, 1985 and was sent on the stationery of the House Judiciary Committee, was signed by the entire committee with the exception of three members. It asks the Attorney General why the rabbis and the minister are being prosecuted. The 25 men and women were arrested on May I and accused of violating a law which prohibits protesting within 500 feet of an embassy.
The rabbis, who were protesting to dramatize the plight of Soviet Jewry, were using the same technique which has proved so successful in the anti-apartheid protests at the South African Embassy. Whereas more than 2,000 protesters have been arrested at the South African embassy on the same charges as the rabbis, the U.S. attorney has decided not to prosecute the South African protesters.
TREATMENT OF S. AFRICAN PROTESTERS CONTRASTED
The letter said, “these members of the clergy were protesting the difficult plight and discriminatory treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union. Like the more than 2,000 people who have demonstrated in front of the South African Embassy, the 24 rabbis and one Lutheran minister’s demonstration was peaceful and did not disrupt the conduct of business at the Embassy.”
The letter asks Meese, “Why has the government decided to prosecute these members of the clergy when it has dropped the charges against all of those who have done the same thing at the South African Embassy?” The letter goes on to say, “The behavior of both groups was identical. Absent of a sound explanation, the decision to prosecute in these cases appears to be arbitrary and discriminatory. Even if the Soviet Union has requested prosecution, we believe that the decision who to prosecute and who not to prosecute for exercising their First Amendment rights to demonstrate should not depend upon the requests of representatives of foreign governments.”
The office of the Attorney General has refused comment on the Judiciary Committee letter.
SECOND ARREST OF RABBIS PROTESTED
Meanwhile, the Rabbinical Assembly has also sent a telegram to Meese protesting what the rabbinical group charged was the denial of “basic rights” by the police to a group of 21 rabbis arrested last week outside the Soviet Embassy.
According to the RA, the organization of 1200 Conservative rabbis, the 21 rabbis arrested on June 10 were incarcerated for six hours and were not allowed to meet with their lawyers for five hours. “They were also denied the right to make telephone calls, have food or water, (and) decent bathroom facilities,” the RA said in the telegram.
“Moreover, many of these leaders in their 60’s were forced to remain standing for a three hour stretch while kept in a tiny cage,” the telegram said. “These men suffered the indignity of body searches and were kept in a cage with drunks and drug addicts while incarcerated in the Washington Superior Court.”
“We strongly object to this denial of basic rights to a group as distinguished and significant as these 21 rabbis. Furthermore, we vow to promote additional peaceful demonstrations and arrests if necessary until Soviet Jews will be allowed the freedoms guaranteed in the Helsinki Accords.”
The telegram was signed by Rabbi Alexander Shapiro, RA president, and Rabbi Allan Meyerowitz, RA Soviet Jewry chairman.