Verdict on Summit Still Out, Soviet Jewry Leaders Say
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Verdict on Summit Still Out, Soviet Jewry Leaders Say

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Leaders of Soviet Jewry groups across the board are less than pleased with the outcome of last week’s summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, because of an apparent lack of progress in the area of human rights.

But there is a divergence of opinion on what may come in the future. Most of those interviewed believe that, like it or not, Gorbachev came away from Washington with the realization that he will have to deal with the issues of human rights and Soviet Jewish emigration, because Americans will simply not let him forget it. These people believe that time will tell what decisions Gorbachev may have privately made last week.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, national chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and one of the most confrontational of Soviet Jewry activists, believes that “human rights suffered at the summit.” The issue, he said, “was dealt with in a perfunctory, quick manner.”

Weiss focused on the meeting between Gorbachev and business leaders following the summit, which “sent the wrong message to Moscow. It tells the Soviets that America is not prepared to back up its rhetoric on human rights with action.

“Tragically, the Jewish community shares the blame,” he said. “We can’t expect the president to use American trade muscle with the Soviets if we don’t insist that he do so.”


David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, who served as national coordinator of the massive “Freedom Sunday” rally on Dec. 6, called the summit “discouraging for people who expected instant gratification.” But now the Soviets “have to weigh their next step in this area very carefully with respect to Soviet Jewry and how they proceed.

“if they are going to remain recalcitrant, hostile and disingenuous in their public statements, as Gorbachev was, it’s going to create a serious cloud over the future direction of Soviet-American relations,” he said. “The challenge for U.S. policymakers is to adhere to the hitherto oft-stated policy of balanced progress in the four substantive areas of bilateral relations.

“Until now, the United States has insisted on a balanced progress in the areas of arms control, regional issues, human rights and bilateral issues,” Harris explained. “The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has sought to detach and emphasize arms control and bilateral issues to the exclusion of human rights, with little more than lip service to human rights and regional conflicts,” he said.

Harris also believes the business meeting was a mistake and that “over the next several months, American efforts to sustain its policy of balanced progress will be challenged as never before, primarily by Moscow, but also perhaps by a number of American interest groups.”

Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, concludes that “The summit was a disappointment. If there are going to be any changes affecting Soviet Jews, they will have to happen….as we go into an election year and a follow-up summit in Moscow,” he said.

Goodman pointed out that the Dec. 6 rally “helped to create a sense of good will in Washington among our political leaders.” He said Gorbachev “will have to reconcile himself to that reality if he wants a normal relationship with our country.”

Most optimistic was Abraham Bayer, international affairs director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, which is responsible for organizing Jewish communities across the country.


Bayer praised Reagan for making good on his promise to press Gorbachev on the Jewish emigration issue. “Human rights was the first issue before he spoke about anything else,” Bayer said, “and he raised the issue of the rally to prove the deep-felt concern of the American people.”

Remember, Bayer said, “nothing happens all at once in the Soviet Union. You don’t push a button and someone gets free. That would go against their character, because that would mean that a superpower could be pressured.” He said that what has happened in the past is that over a period of time, “things begin to happen” and the doors open up.

Bayer hopes that “Gorbachev, being a very practical man, realized finally that this issue will not go away. If this visit didn’t convince him about this, then I don’t think anyone will.”

Above all, Bayer pointed to the “incredible byproduct” of the summit, an increased “feeling of Jewish solidarity. It showed that every stripe, every different persuasion, all united, put this together.

“I’ve never experienced such a Jewish feeling of solidarity. I’m not sure, it may be that the American Jewish community got more out of this than Soviet Jewry,” he said. “Gorbachev may have been able to achieve more Jewish unity than we’ve been able to do ourselves in the past year.”

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