WASHINGTON (Mar. 4)
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry, which has taken a cautious approach to reports of rising anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, is now urging the Soviet government to ensure the safety of the third largest Jewish community in the world.
“All we are asking the Soviet Union is to enforce their constitution and their laws to ensure the Jewish population is not subject to physical harm,” Martin Wenick, the conference’s executive director, said in an interview Friday.
The conference’s constituent organizations decided at a meeting in Washington last week to heighten its profile on the issue, raising the matter publicly with people inside and outside the U.S. government.
The group issued a statement saying that the Feb. 28 meeting was held “to voice our concern over the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, whose pernicious manifestation we perceive as a threat to the physical and emotional well-being of that nation’s Jewish population of more than 1.5 million.
“Mindful of recent events in the Soviet Union, in which the Jewish community has been threatened by certain nationalist groups, we urge the Soviet authorities to take action, including enforcement of their own laws, to ensure the safety of the Jewish community,” the conference said in the statement.
It also urged the Bush administration to continue raising the issue during high-level meetings with Soviet authorities.
“We ask that the Jewish communities of North America remain sensitive to the increasingly perilous situation of our brethren in the Soviet Union, and that they support all efforts to ensure their physical and emotional security,” the statement continued.
NO THREAT IN BALTIC REGIONS
The conference also urged members of Congress, “other governmental bodies, leaders of the American business community and all other concerned parties to support our efforts on behalf of the security of the Soviet Jewish community, and raise this issue, which affects the daily lives” of Soviet Jews.
Wenick said that while there is no certainty that the lives of Soviet Jews are in danger, “they perceive a threat.” Many are in a state of panic, he said.
He explained that Soviet Jews look at the increasing number of threats of anti-Semitic violence in the context of Russian history, with its sordid record of anti-Semitic pogroms.
The KGB recently stated it will not allow pogroms against Jews. While Soviet Jews have taken some comfort from this, they are not convinced that the authorities have the capability to protect them. They point to the recent mass slaughter of Armenians in Azerbaijan.
The threat does not exist in every region of the Soviet Union, Wenick stressed. Jews in the Baltic republics feel safe, he said. The anti-Jewish threats come from Russian nationalists, parts of the Ukraine and such republics as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Moldavia.
Wenick also suggested the anti-Semitic campaign is part of the opposition to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.