WASHINGTON (Apr. 18)
Soviet Jewry advocacy groups are protesting the U.S. government’s sponsorship of a visit by a group of nationalist Soviet writers and editors, some of whom are openly anti-Semitic.
Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, and Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, rejected the State Department’s explanation that the eight Soviet nationalists were brought to the United States as a means of educating them about American democracy.
The State Department said Tuesday it knew that three of the eight persons on the monthlong tour, sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency, had been accused of anti-Semitism.
But department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler stressed that “bringing them here does not signal that we approve or sanction their views.” She said the government invited them “to teach them how the United States works as multiethnic society, based on individual freedom.”
Wenick of the National Conference rejected this explanation. “Do we reward the Ku Klux Klan with government funds to enable them to express themselves?” he asked.
He said there are “loads of people” in the Soviet Union who do not understand Soviet society, including Russian nationals, who could have been brought on the tour.
But he said it was “outrageous that taxpayers’ monies are expended” for persons engaged in disseminating anti-Semitism either personally or through journals for which they work.
“They are perfectly free to come to the United States on their own money,” he added.
‘SUCH CONTEMPTIBLE PEOPLE’
Jess Hordes, director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also expressed outrage, saying that the government could have found others with a variety of views who were not anti-Semitic.
And Sholom Comay, president of the American Jewish Committee, issued a statement saying that the U.S. government “ought not to be in the business of sponsoring even one anti-Semitic visitor to the U.S., much less providing a group with broad exposure in the country and public platforms.
Those who suggest that “exposure to American democracy could magically transform these Soviet visitors into born-again pluralists” show a “profound lack of understanding of who several of these individuals are and the views they have long represented,” he added.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) told the House of Representatives on Wednesday that after reading about the anti-Semitic writers, he canceled a meeting he had been scheduled to have with them.
He said it “boggles the mind” that the USIA would spend $60,000 to take “such contemptible people” around the United States.
“I believe we ought to kick these so-called visitors right on the rear end, right back to Russia,” he said.
Both Wenick and Naftalin also questioned the Soviet visitors’ appearance here Tuesday at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. The institute is part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, which receives partial funding from the federal government.
They not only objected to their being hosted by a prestigious institution that receives government funds but to the scheduled subject, “Cultural and Ethnic Diversity in the Soviet Union.”
Wenick and Naftalin pointed out that all the visitors are Russian nationalists and do not represent the cultural diversity of the Soviet Union.
The three charged with anti-Semitism are Viktor Likhonosov, an author; Oleg Mikhailov, a scholar at the World Literary Institute in Moscow; and Stanislav Kunayev, chief editor of the conservative magazine Nash Sovremennik.
They were among 74 persons who signed a letter published in Literaturnaya Rossiya that accused Zionists of causing anti-Semitism in order to make it easier for Jews to immigrate to Israel or the United States.
AGAINST ZIONISTS, NOT JEWS
Ernst Safonov, editor of the publication, who is also on the tour, told The Washington Post that the letter “is not directed against the Jews,” but Zionists.
Kunayev, writing in his own publication last June, called the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” not the forgery of Czarist Russia that it is, but a real document, written by “an anti-human intelligence and an almost unnatural satanic will.”
Naftalin said the three anti-Semites represent a “very powerful” movement in the Soviet Union, whose leaders include the anti-Semitic writer Valentin Rasputin, appointed last month to President Mikhail Gorbachev’s new presidential advisory council.
Rasputin was invited to join the U.S. tour but did not come, Naftalin said.
He said the Soviet writers are being presented to the American public “without disclosing who they really are and what they stand for.”
At the Kennan Institute, for instance, they were introduced by their resumes, and there was no mention that they “represent the intellectual center of the anti-Semitic, Russian nationalist, neo-Nazi movement,” Naftalin said.
He said editors and writers are also speaking in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New York and other cities, where they may be received by audiences that will not know what they stand for.