NEW YORK (Dec. 6)
Soviet Jewry activists are planning a demonstration here Wednesday morning, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly.
But for the first time in many years, demonstrators will seek to balance their usual angry appeals for free emigration with some message of appreciation for progress already begun under Gorbachev.
The Soviet leader arrived in New York Tuesday afternoon. He is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon with President Reagan and President-elect George Bush.
Gorbachev is expected to discuss human rights in his U.N. address, in light of the Dec. 10 observance of United Nations Human Rights Day.
Human rights also will be on the agenda when Gorbachev met with Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz assured representatives of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry at a meeting Wednesday in Washington. Shultz is to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
But the message conveyed to the Soviets will undoubtedly be different than it has been in the past, because of indisputable headway made in the treatment of Soviet Jews.
In the past few months, there have been promises of renewed Jewish cultural life in the Soviet Union, a lifting on the ban of Israeli radio broadcasts and the easing of the notorious “state secrets” obstacle to emigration.
GREET GORBACHEV ‘WITH RESPECT’
Above all, the numbers of Soviet Jews being allowed to leave reflect major improvement. Some 15,640 Jews have been allowed to emigrate so far this year, compared to 8,155 last year and a mere 914 the year before.
In Washington, NCSJ Chairwoman Shoshana Cardin told a news conference after the meeting with Shultz that she is optimistic that promises made by the Soviets in recent months will be implemented.
Although most of the major Soviet Jewry groups welcome this progress, few have been as encouraged as Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
Schneier, whose Park East Synagogue is directly opposite Gorbachev’s headquarters at the Soviet Mission, said in a statement Monday that the New York Jewish community should greet the Soviet leader “with respect, in recognition of the increased opportunities for Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate and to practice their religion and their culture at home.”
Schneier returned from the Soviet Union last Friday, after talks with government officials. On the basis of those talks, he said “a new, liberalized code” affecting the practice of religion would be presented for ratification by the Supreme Soviet in April.
Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said it would be impossible to ignore the progress made recently.
“But no one should be under the impression that we’re satisfied,” said Bayer. “It’s like a mother with four children who gets two children back. She wants all four.”