Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, addressing a meeting of the Communist Youth League in Moscow, has made what is believed to be his first public statement condemning anti-Semitism.
Leaders of Soviet Jewry advocacy groups responded to the long-awaited statement in mixed fashion, some welcoming it, but others saying it minimized or only partially addressed the problem.
Gorbachev’s remark came quietly, in response to a question posed April 11 in Moscow at the 21st annual congress of Komsomol, the Communist youth movement of the Soviet Union.
Asked what measures he intended to take in response to “abnormal conditions of life and activities of Jews in the Soviet Union” because of anti-Semitism, Gorbachev replied, “I believe that we ought not to allow raging of nationalism, chauvinism, anti-Semitism or any other ‘isms’ to occur.”
“It is necessary to take the path of harmonizing interethnic relations, to set up legal, economic and social prerequisites for people of all ethnic groups,” wherever they live, he said. “There is no other way that I know of.”
A copy of the statement was forwarded by Yuri Dubinin, Soviet ambassador to the United States, to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group that promotes religious freedom in Soviet bloc countries and other nations that experience any religious repression.
Schneier, senior rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, raised the issue of Soviet Jews’ growing fears of anti-Semitism in recent meetings he had with Dubinin in Washington and with high-level Soviet officials in Moscow.
Dubinin said that Tass, the Soviet news agency, distributed the statement nationwide.
SOME NOT SATISFIED
Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, welcomed the statement, acknowledging it was “the first that we are aware of that he has made.”
“We appreciate his expression of condemnation and hope that this will be broadcast fully,” so that “all Soviet republics will be aware that the government, we trust, will try to prevent any violence at all,” she said.
“We look forward to further statements,” she said, particularly one that would indicate an investigation into an anti-Semitic attack in January on the House of Writers in Moscow.
Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry, registered some surprise, saying, “Nobody reported it to me in any of my conversations everyday with people in Moscow.”
Such a statement, she said, “would make a tremendous impact if it were so, and would help defuse the fears of May 5,” a date that anti-Semitic groups have threatened to stage a pogrom. It is the birthday of Karl Marx.
But the head of another Soviet Jewry group said the reply was given only in the context of several responses to nationalism, and that Gorbachev had not even pronounced the word “anti-Semitism” aloud.
Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said the response was last in a two-hour broadcast of Gorbachev’s replies to questions, all submitted in writing.
Acknowledging it was the first time in five years that Gorbachev had even addressed the issue publicly, Cohen said she understood that Gorbachev “could not even pronounce the word ‘anti-Semitism.’ “
She said he responded, “Yes, you know that I was always against nationalism, chauvinism” but only quietly muttered “against anti-Semitism.”
“I would have liked him to say, ‘Yes, there is growing anti-Semitism in this country, and you know it is liable to prosecution.”
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, national director of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, also was not satisfied. He called for “a law, codified by the Soviet Parliament, which, in the strongest and most uncertain terms, forbids anti-Semitism. Words are not enough.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.