WASHINGTON (Jun. 13)
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said Tuesday it was “prepared to support a waiver” of sanctions contained in the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, if President Bush receives “appropriate assurances” from the Soviet Union in four key areas.
The conference’s preconditions for granting such a waiver are a sustained high level of Soviet emigration; codification of emigration laws; progress on resolving the cases of long-term refuseniks; and reversal of emigration refusals to those who allegedly had access to state secrets.
In essence, the vote gives a green light to the Bush administration to urge the 12-month waiver, something the administration would be loath to do without significant American Jewish support.
“It gives a signal that if they feel comfortable with a waiver, that’s their option,” said Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference.
A waiver would grant the Soviets most-favored-nation trade status and allow them to receive U.S. government credits for the first time since 1975.
On May 12, President Bush said he would support a temporary waiver if the Soviet Union codifies its emigration laws. A day earlier, Secretary of State James Baker said it would also be appropriate to waive the less-powerful Stevenson Amendment, which withholds U.S. government loan guarantees, should the emigration reforms be institutionalized.
President Bush “has that first responsibility — to act in the best interest of the United States,” Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference, said at a news conference convened Tuesday afternoon to announce her organization’s new policy stance.
ONLY THREE MEMBERS DISSENTED
The new policy was approved overwhelmingly by the conference’s Board of Governors, which met here Monday and Tuesday. Of 52 voting members, only three dissented and one abstained.
The three voting against the policy change were the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and representatives of two undisclosed Jewish federations. A third federation representative abstained.
The vote came after four hours of discussion,” said Cardin. The 14-year-old amendment has become for the Soviet Jewry movement the ultimate measure of U.S. intentions on Soviet emigration matters.
There was no discussion of the Stevenson Amendment, because it did not have the same “vested interest” for the Jewish community, said Cardin.
The National Conference, a coalition of 47 national Jewish groups and close to 300 Jewish community relations councils and federations, announced Jan. 10 that it planned to reassess its position on Jackson-Vanik.
The organized Jewish community had been anxiously awaiting NCSJ’s decision, in the wake of the marked increase in Soviet Jewish emigration over the past six months, projected to exceed 40,000 this year.
Supporters of a waiver include the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Congress, the Workmen’s Circle and the majority of delegates to the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council plenum in February.
Delegates to the NJCRAC plenum included representatives from 110 local Jewish community relations councils, as well as national Jewish groups including the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress.
NJCRAC TAKES ACTION, TOO
The decision Tuesday is “very much consistent” with an action taken Monday by the executive committee of NJCRAC, which met in Cincinnati.
Albert Chernin, executive vice chairman of NJCRAC, said in an interview from Cincinnati that his group also based its decision on “assurances that the U.S. would seek the cooperation of Congress in granting a temporary waiver should the Soviet Union codify its immigration laws.”
Opponents of a waiver at this time include the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, representing 50 local Soviet Jewry councils and 100,000 members worldwide.
Pamela Cohen, national president of the Union of Councils, said in an interview from Chicago that the National Conference decision could be seen by the Soviets as “a premature major concession.”
Cohen said the Union of Councils wants more than “assurances” of Soviet progress, but “resolution of all the long-term cases and publication and implementation of legislation” consistent with past Soviet promises.
The Soviets pledged in January, in a human rights agreement signed in Vienna, to codify a liberalization of its emigration practices.
But according to Cardin of the National Conference, “this is not end of the process, but a beginning.” Noting that her organization’s announcement “culminated six months of study,” she called this a “historic day.”
(JTA staff writer Andrew Silow Carroll in New York contributed to this report.)