UNITED NATIONS (Dec. 15)
Natan Shcharansky warned here Monday that the plight of Soviet Jews is worsening, and called for an open, vigorous campaign in the West to pressure the Soviet authorities to accord the Jews and other dissidents their due human rights.
Speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Israel UN Mission, the former Soviet refusenik, who now lives in Israel, charged that the situation of Soviet Jews worsened in recent years, during the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.
“Many people with goodwill in the West believe that Gorbachev is more liberal, understanding and tolerant than previous Soviet leaders,” Shcharansky said. “But the truth is that Gorbachev’s record on human rights is the worst. He just got a good public relations campaign. Good progaganda.”
Shcharansky said that more Jews are being arrested now for teaching Hebrew than before and that the level of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union is now lower than it has been in many years.
“About 400,000 Soviet Jews are waiting to leave, but only 1,000 were permitted to leave this year,” Shcharansky noted. Moreover, he said, the waiting period for an exit visa is longer than it has been in many years. “Some people have been waiting for an exit visa for almost 17 years,” he claimed.
WEST SHOULD APPLY ‘STRONG PRESSURE’
Shcharansky arrived in New York from Washington where he met last week with President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz and other officials and lawmakers.
He said that he raised the situation of Soviet Jews with Reagan and Shultz and the two said that the issue of human rights of Soviet Jews will be “top priority” in any future negotiations between the United States and the USSR.
Shcharansky said he believes the West should apply “strong pressure” on the Soviet Union, including trade restrictions and scientific exchange limitations, in order to improve the Soviet policy toward Jews and on the issue of human rights. He stressed that his views are his own and that he does not represent the Israeli government.
Shcharansky was critical of the media in the West, claiming that it is too easy on the Soviets and their abuse of human rights.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, echoed Shcharansky in his assessment of the “worsening situation” of Soviet Jews. The Israeli envoy charged that the Soviet authorities are engaged in the “lobotomization of Jewish culture.” He said that Jews are harassed and persecuted for trying to maintain their culture and religion.