NEW YORK (May. 1)
Former Soviet prisoner of Zion Yosef Begun thanked an avenue block packed with "Freedom Day" ralliers for winning his release, but expressed concern at the shrinking numbers of Soviet Jewry demonstrators since he and other highly publicized prisoners have been freed.
"We have no right to weaken our struggle, demanding and pressure on the Soviet Union," Begun shouted to an estimated 2,000 demonstrators at the Soviet mission to the United Nations. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev "says his country is free and open, that human rights is there. But it’s not true," Begun added, as he spoke publicly in America for the first time.
Begun, accompanied on the podium by his wife, Inna (who now goes by the Hebrew name Nechama), reminded the crowd that "Jews have to remember about slavery. We are now free, but our brothers are not."
As a chant of "Yosef" grew, Begun changed the word to "Yuli," referring to Yuli and Inna Kosharovsky, who recently completed a 17-day hunger strike marking Yuli’s 17th year anniversary as a refusenik.
Members of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, who coordinated the rally in lieu of the annual Solidarity Sunday march, which the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews canceled this year, handed out postcards calling for Yuli’s release to be sent to President Reagan, as a show of support prior to the president’s upcoming summit in Moscow with Gorbachev.
Ralliers carried signs demanding freedom for Kosharovsky and other refuseniks, such as Igor Lirtsman and his children. They shouted cries of "One, two, three, four. Open up the iron door. Five, six, seven, eight. Let our people emigrate," and "We want freedom and we want it now."
TRADE, CULTURAL LINKS STRESSED
The key word for the demonstration was delivered by program host Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Student Struggle, who observed that "linkage" of trade, culture and human rights affects U.S. dealings with South Africa. "We demand no less," he said.
"The bridges of American trade, technological and cultural exchange should be based on pillars of human rights," he told the crowd.
Weiss criticized the millions of dollars American banks loan the Soviet Union at low interest and offered this challenge to such companies as McDonald’s, Nabisco, Chevron and Johnson and Johnson that deal with the Soviet Union: "Would you do business in South Africa?"
Dance groups and such sports organizations as the National Hockey League, which Weiss said is considering league games with the Soviets, and the National Basketball Association, which participates in exhibition games with the Soviets, were also challenged by Weiss as to whether they would conduct such activities with South Africa.
"Some people are being duped by glasnost," Weiss said. "Tell Gorbachev we will not be fooled; we will not be silent."
Weiss noted that while many of the well-known refuseniks are now free, Jewish emigration is only 18 percent of what it was in 1979. He also pointed to such "Catch 22’s" as the rule that any family who wishes to leave and has a son 15 years or older must first have that son serve in the Soviet army. "Then he can’t leave because they claim he knows state secrets," Weiss said.
"On the eve of Summit IV, we are not satisfied with words," Weiss stressed in reference to President Reagan’s and Secretary of State George Shultz’s verbal support and empathy for Soviet Jews. "We want action."
Other speakers at the rally, which was coordinated by the SSSJ, the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center in Jerusalem, included Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), Catholic activist Sister Rose Thering and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, vice chairman of the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews.
The basic message each directed toward Reagan, as this rally kicked off a "Countdown to Summit IV" campaign, was summarized by Look-stein: "Do not stand idly by while Jewish blood is spilled and is being spilled," he shouted. "You and I will be here until Kosharovsky and all the others get out."