NEW YORK (Apr. 16)
Soviet Jewry activists are concerned with the health of refusenik couple Lev and Inna Elbert, who are on the 43rd day of a hunger strike in Moscow to convince the Soviet authorities to allow them to immigrate to Israel. Because of the length of the fast, which is not their first, Inna is reportedly suffering from liver damage and Lev is extremely weak.
Last week he reportedly had heart stoppage and was advised by a doctor not to attend the Passover seder at Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, at which Secretary of State George Shultz was present and to which the Elberts were invited, according to both the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry (UCSJ).
Lev spoke Thursday morning with Pamela Cohen, UCSJ president, in Chicago, and Cohen told JTA that he was so weak he could not continue on the phone. However, Elbert has said, “The last weapons we have to use are our own bodies.”
Elbert was visited Thursday by a delegation of Congressmen, including Steny Hoyer (D. Md.), who is chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission). The Congressional delegation is in Moscow for talks with Soviet authorities.
Elbert told Cohen that the Congressmen met Wednesday with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who reportedly told them that “the term of refusal was from five-ten years.” Asked how this term could apply to specific cases, Gorbachev is reported to have answered that a resolution of “broader issues” between the U.S. and USSR would lead to the resolution of the Elberts’ case.
Prior to Passover, Elbert received a call from Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and, according to Cohen, he told Peres that he would not end his hunger strike until he had some “factual information” that the Soviets were positively considering their case.
The Elberts appear committed to continuing the hunger strike to the end. In a telegram sent to Israel April 9, Elbert wrote that the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs had informed them in a telephone conversation of the “negative resolution” of their case, “notwithstanding the fact that we have submitted documents indicating that we possess no secrets.”
Elbert, 36, is a construction engineer from Kiev. As a private in the Soviet army between 1973-75 he helped construct a swimming pool in an officers’ club, and was charged with knowing “state secrets” when they first applied to emigrate in 1976. They have since applied to leave over 12 times.