WASHINGTON (Sep. 10)
Natan Sharansky urged American Jews Wednesday not to forget, in their joy at the emigration of well-known refuseniks, like himself, that nearly 400,000 Jews are still being denied the right to leave the Soviet Union.
Speaking to the Washington Board of Rabbis at a luncheon meeting, the former Soviet Prisoner of Conscience urged Jews to participate in “historic” numbers in a march on Washington when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev comes to Washington for a summit meeting with President Reagan as expected this fall.
Every Jew must be made to understand that “this moment is historical” in that every Jew by “acting himself can change the fate of the Jews of the Soviet Union,” Sharansky said.
He explained that by a massive turnout, the Jewish community will demonstrate to Gorbachev that to achieve his goals he must improve human rights conditions in the USSR and allow massive Jewish emigration.
Sharansky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his current tour of the United States is to urge Jews to participate in the Washington march.
THE ILLUSION OF GLASNOST
While Gorbachev is perceived as more “liberal” than his predecessors, it is his regime that passed a new immigration law that makes it “much more difficult, if not impossible” for most Jews to emigrate, Sharansky said. He added it is also under Gorbachev that for the first time in Soviet history grassroots anti-Semitic groups have been allowed to appear in the Soviet Union.
At the same time, Sharansky stressed Gorbachev understands the necessity to improve the Soviet economy, and that in order to achieve this he must achieve agreements with the West that will lead to the acquiring from the West technology and credit.
Gorbachev is trying to achieve this through a “public relations” campaign in which he gives up little, Sharansky said. He said that a massive turn-out by Jews and others will convince him that he must do more.
As an illustration, Sharansky said he was speaking to the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun Monday and told the editors that they should expect some well-known refuseniks to be released because of the meeting next week between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and the upcoming summit. He added that no sooner did he finish, almost on cue, he received a telephone call that several refuseniks, including Iosif Begun and Viktor Brailovsky, had been granted exit visas.
Sharansky said that the “Jew on the street” knows only the well-known activists, and when they are allowed to emigrate he tends to believe that the struggle is over, forgetting the thousands of others still refused permission. Asked if there is not a danger that some will use the rally to oppose the summit and detente, Sharansky replied that the purpose is to demonstrate that no agreement can be made in a “vacuum,” that human rights and Jewish emigration are an “integral part of detente.”
When a rabbi suggested that the demonstration should include the arrest of rabbis in front of the Soviet Embassy, Sharansky quipped that as an Israeli he cannot advise Americans to break their country’s laws.
Turning serious, he argued that arrests will not have any influence on Gorbachev, only a massive turnout of people would show him the power of the Jewish community.
Sharansky indicated little faith that Jewish culture and religion would be allowed to flourish in the Soviet Union. He said the announced plans to open a kosher restaurant in Moscow or to allow a few young Jews to study at yeshivas abroad in order to become rabbis were mere public relations gimmicks. While not opposed to this, Sharansky said the Soviets cannot allow Judaism to flourish because they do not allow the Christian religion to thrive.
“Those (Jews) who are really interested in Jewish culture, Jewish literature and Jewish religion, they are people who have, in fact, decided they and their children should leave this country (USSR),” he said. He said Soviet Jews who have decided to assimilate are not interested in Judaism. He said while the Soviet government wants assimilation, Jews must still carry identity cards that they are Jews, since the Kremlin does not trust them.
Sharansky’s two days’ stay in Washington, in which he will meet several members of Congress and address University of Maryland students, among others, was arranged by Chris Gersten, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition. Gersten told the JTA he was acting as an individual and that Sharansky did not want to be sponsored by any organization.
Sharansky confirmed this when he told a reporter, “I am sponsoring myself.” He was introduced at the meeting by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Temple Solel in Bowie, Md., president of the Board of Rabbis.