NEW YORK (Apr. 5)
For the first time since it began 16 years ago, New York’s massive Solidarity Sunday March for Soviet Jewry has been canceled.
The Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, which organizes the annual rally, called the move a “postponement.” It said it would be organizing “smaller events” as part of a “global campaign designed to heighten and sustain public awareness of the continued plight of Soviet Jewry” prior to the summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, scheduled to take place in Moscow from May 29 to June 2.
“The Soviet Jewry movement must focus its resources and energies to make certain our issue is prominently raised at the summit, and that steps are taken toward normalizing the emigration process,” said Alan Pesky, coalition chairman.
Soviet Jewry activists believe the effectiveness of the annual New York demonstration, ironically, may have been reduced on the afternoon of Dec. 6, when an estimated 200,000 demonstrators for Soviet Jewry packed the Ellipse near the White House in Washington.
But the coalition described that rally rather as an springboard for new hopes and plans. “We will build on that momentum,” the group stated.
This year’s march had been scheduled for May 1, to end with a demonstration in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, across the street from the United Nations. The annual event was, until Dec. 6, the largest of its kind in the nation.
The activities that are planned so far to fulfill the new strategy include a Community Action Day in Washington, sometime in May, featuring meetings with members of Congress and Reagan administration officials to gather support for the Soviet Jewry movement.
A public meeting will be sought with the presidential candidates at which “they would take a forthright stand on the issue of Soviet Jewry.”
An advertisement is planned for major publications, and other public announcements highlighting the new campaign are also foreseen.
STATEMENT IN HELSINKI
If Reagan follows through with a plan to make a statement on human rights in Helsinki prior to his trip to Moscow, “a delegation of Jewish leaders will be in Helsinki to publicly convey a message that the Soviet Union must adhere to the Helsinki Accords and to the International Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,” the coalition said in a statement.
In addition, a major event is being planned in New York to coincide with the start of the summit itself, and the coalition intends to “distribute different paraphernalia to organizations and thousands of people for use prior to, during and after the summit meeting.”
No dates have yet been set for any of the above.
Moreover, said Zeesy Schnur, executive director of the coalition, “a special effort will be made to reach into Moscow itself with a plea for freedom for Soviet Jews.”
She would not elaborate.
Schnur said the change reflected new conditions and opportunities. “I think this is one of the most exciting opportunities that we have — going out of New York and reaching to Helsinki, Moscow and all Europe for a global response.”
The coalition intends to mount its new campaign with the help of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, various community organizations in the greater New York area and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
But Jerry Strober, a spokesman for the National Conference, said his group would support the coalition’s local efforts, but that it alone was responsible for planning Soviet Jewry activities outside the New York area. Strober indicated he was leaving Sunday for Helsinki to plan Soviet Jewry activities there prior to the summit.
Pesky said that the past three years had witnessed a “shift in Soviet policy and tactics. The Soviet Union is waging a subtle yet unmistakable campaign designed to squelch the Soviet Jewry issue and to persuade the West that the issue no longer exists.
“But thousands of Soviet Jews still wish to immigrate to Israel, and the failure of the Soviets to grant Jews full religious and cultural rights tells us otherwise,” he said.
The change of plans evoked less surprise than would be anticipated, and a tacit willingness to initiate a new approach to the issue of Soviet Jewry.
Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry, for example, agreed that the movement needs a new focal point. “To all intents and purposes, the community feels that the problem is no longer the problem of the 1970s and ’80s. The (big) ‘names’ have been released and we have to go through a new education process,” she said.