Fight for Human Rights in USSR Will Continue, Says Jewish Leader
Menu JTA Search

Fight for Human Rights in USSR Will Continue, Says Jewish Leader

Download PDF for this date

An agreement endorsed Oct. 30 by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had importance beyond setting up the recently completed summit meeting, according to Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

“This was the first time the issue of human rights has ever been on the agenda of a summit meeting, and the general secretary signed it,” Abram told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week between meetings convened to evaluate the success of the massive Dec. 6 Soviet Jewry rally in Washington and the subsequent summit.

Abram, who also chairs the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is convinced the Reagan administration will not allow the Soviets to forget that signature or others on international documents that endorse the right of citizens to emigrate from their own country.

He said Gorbachev “took note” when Reagan stressed to him that the Soviet Jewry movement was a continuing “American commitment” and pressed home the strength of the demonstration.

Abram said he, too, reminded Soviet officials of “what was represented on that stage” — major governmental figures, representatives of church groups, civil rights leaders. One of the Soviets “turned his back on me, infuriated,” he added.

Even more important, Abram said, was “the tremendous impact on the Jewish population of the Soviet Union. The Voice of America was broadcasting that rally live into the Soviet Union. . . and it had an unbelievable kind of impact on the Jews of the Soviet Union.”

Likewise, said Abram, the rally had an “immeasurable unifying effect on American Jews, particularly on the youth.” Added NCSJ spokesman Jerry Strober, “It may mean the difference between assimilation and identification.”


Where to go from here? Abram wants to keep up the fight. “Our movement should not be directed only towards family reunification,” he said.

“Our goal is to keep the Soviet Union to its obligation under the Helsinki Accords” to allow free emigration.

The recent emigration of well-known refuseniks “should not dampen the Soviet Jewry movement,” said Abram.

“We must not come down from this high, but move forward to new highs. We must use the new contacts in cultural exchange and trade.”

Abram said he did not favor such exchanges, but also did not advocate boycotts.

He stressed, rather, that “every American should do what the president has done, and have no contact, no matter how friendly, without raising these issues in a profound and determined way. That’s the American responsibility.”

He said he was disturbed that American business leaders cajoled Gorbachev with ideas for U.S.-Soviet trade.

“They cannot operate in isolation from the context of American principle. . . .There can never be normalization of our relationship with the Soviet Union in any area until the Soviet Union normalizes the human rights pacts and shows a decent respect for mankind,” he contended.

He asserted that the codification of emigration regulations of last January is “the end of it” when it comes to Soviet permission to emigrate. Of the approximately 8,000 Jews who left the Soviet Union this past year, only a small number were known refuseniks, he noted.


This trend indicates two things to Abram: that emigration is possible without strict compliance with written regulations and that refuseniks, many of them long-term, remain waiting while others leave.

It is impossible to count accurately the number of refuseniks, agreed Abram and Strober. The names of many refuseniks do not appear on the computer lists kept by Soviet Jewry groups, and other Soviet Jews may fear to apply.

Abram urged “every Jew in the Soviet Union who wants to leave to apply without invitation, regardless of family elsewhere, to exercise the rights that were guaranteed by his own country.”

He disputed Gorbachev’s statement during a recent interview with NBC-TV anchor Tom Brokaw that emigration was creating a “brain drain.”

The NCSJ chairman emphasized that many highly trained professionals who had applied to emigrate subsequently lost their jobs.

Abram also stressed that the Soviet Jewry movement was as interested in the religious and cultural lives of Jews remaining in the Soviet Union as in those who wish to emigrate.

But he dismissed efforts to import small numbers of prayer books and Bibles and to set up kosher restaurants as “tidbits” that deceptively attempt to portray the Soviets as compliant with Jewish needs.

“If they really want to revive Jewish life in the Soviet Union, let them do what the Romanians do. Let them form Jewish federations, Jewish schools, Jewish clubs,” he stated.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund