UNITED NATIONS (Sep. 2)
Former Prisoner of Conscience Natan Sharansky began a three-week private U.S. campaign on behalf of Soviet Jews by saying Wednesday that “the oppression of Jews remains a firm policy of the Soviet Union.”
Sharansky told a news conference Wednesday from steps named in his honor opposite the UN that Soviet domestic liberalization is a “sleeping pill aimed at squelching the Soviet Jewry issue.”
Sharansky told the JTA that during his visit he will meet with American Jewish leaders to warn against complacency in the face of the Soviet liberalization known as “glasnost.” He has warned in recent months that the principle goal of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign is to lull the West into believing that Jews have the same rights as others in the USSR.
He further contended that the Gorbachev regime makes occasional gestures of good will by freeing prominent Jewish dissidents, but that the denial of emigration rights for Jews remains unchanged. About 700-800 have emigrated per month in 1987.
Sharansky, who arrived from his Jerusalem home with his wife Avital and their nine-month-old daughter Rachel, said that his stop in Washington, D.C., would include meetings with State Department officials and members of Congress. He said he would stress to them the importance of continuing the pressure on the Soviet Union to open the gates for Soviet Jews.
A CRUCIAL PERIOD AHEAD
“The fate of those Jews who remain in the USSR will be determined during” the upcoming months, he said, which he called a crucial period in East-West relations.
The former POC disclosed that he spoke by phone, before leaving Israel, with refusenik Lev Ovsischer, who said he was granted permission to emigrate. Ovsischer, a Minsk native who has been recently living in Moscow, was denied an exit visa for many years because he is a former pilot in the Soviet Army.
Sharansky’s press conference was sponsored by the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews and attended by members of American groups working on behalf of Soviet Jewry.
Alan Pesky, chairman of the Coalition, told reporters that while improved relations and easing of tension between the U.S. and USSR would be a welcome development, “the issue of Jewish emigration and human rights must not be sacrificed on the altar of superpower diplomacy.”
He emphasized that glasnost is an attempt by Gorbachev to portray life for Jews in the Soviet Union “as akin to paradise on earth.”