SAN FRANCISCO (Jul. 26)
Nineteen protesters were arrested here Wednesday for blocking the gates to the Soviet Consulate, an action they said was an attempt to give the Soviet officials “trapped” inside the consulate a sample of what their government regularly does to Jews.
“For decades, the Soviet government has kept their Jewish community hostage, prisoners, trapped behind the Iron Curtain,” explained Greg Smith, a vice president of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews (BACSJ) and one of those arrested. “It is time for the Soviet officials to understand what this experience is like.”
The 19 protesters, many wearing prayer-shawls and skullcaps, prayed and sang Hebrew songs while, across the street, nine supporters carried three large banners. One proclaimed: “The USSR destroys families.”
BACSJ public affairs director Rusty Frank, who also was arrested Wednesday, explained that the civil disobedience was the result of a promise to two refusenik families, Lev and Inna Elbert of Kiev and Leonid and Ekaterina Glozman-Yuzefovich of Moscow.
Both families have relatives in Israel. The Yuzefoviches have been waiting for permission to emigrate for six years, the Elberts for II.
‘LIFE AND DEATH’ MATTER
Smith contended the demonstration also was a matter of life and death. If the families are not allowed to leave the Soviet Union soon, he said, “we believe that they will resume their hunger strikes, which could very well be fatal considering the health problems of the people involved.”
In March, Leonid Yuzefovich and both Elberts began 41-day hunger strikes that ended when they received word from Soviet emigration authorities they their cases would be reconsidered.
“Last week, the Yuzefovich family was turned down again,” Frank said. The basis for the refusal is “state secrecy,” which, according to the BACSJ, denotes Leonid’s “army service, as he never worked with any classified information or had security clearance.”
Yuzefovich, a conscript, served as an officer in the regular army from 1972-74. The Elberts have not heard from the authorities. They also had been refused because of alleged access to classified information.
The civil disobedience “is something we do not do lightly,” Smith added, “but we’re concerned about saving lives.”
BACSJ director David Waksberg, who also was arrested Wednesday, said that he had told the refuseniks the previous week of the action planned on their behalf. Sixteen of the protesters who sat down in front of the consulate were arrested on three California state misdemeanors — unlawful assembly, refusal to disperse after a formal command and remaining at the place of a demonstration after having been asked to leave.
They were taken to the Hall of Justice here, fingerprinted, photographed and handed a citation to appear in court August 25. They were released on their own recognizance.
According to Officer Bob Davis, a police spokesman, the maximum penalty for these charges is one year in the county jail, a $500 fine or both.
FEDERAL MISDEMEANORS CHARGED
The other three protesters, who appeared before a U.S. magistrate Wednesday afternoon, were arrested on federal misdemeanor charges.
Their arrests occurred when a man with a Russian accent — who declined to identify himself– tried to enter the consulate, as did a mail carrier. Reuben Haller, a member of the BACSJ board, refused to let them pass. He was arrested by FBI agents, and Frank immediately took his place.
She, too, was placed under arrest, and when the third demonstrator, Tom Loos, took her place, he also was arrested. Haller, Frank and Loos were taken to the Federal Building here and charged with violating the so-called “hundred-foot rule,” which among other things prohibits obstruction of foreign premises such as the Soviet Consulate.
Attorney Ephraim Margolin, who with Lawrence Gibbs represents all the protesters, reported that the three also were released on their own recognizance, and that they face a maximum penalty of $500 fine, six months in jail or both. Their next court appearance is July 29.
Refusenik Leonid Yuzefovich, 38, is a physicist, and his wife is a French teacher and Hebrew teacher who last month gave birth to their fifth child.
Lev Elbert, 39, also is a Hebrew teacher, as well as a civil engineer. According to the BACSJ, he served a year in prison for alleged draft evasion. In addition, the family has been harassed continually by the KGB and their only son, Carmi, age 16, was beaten in school so severely that he suffered a concussion. After his release from the hospital, he was cared for by his mother, who is a physician.