Soviet Jewry Group Urges Bush to Waive Jackson-vanik Sanctions
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Soviet Jewry Group Urges Bush to Waive Jackson-vanik Sanctions

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In a major policy change, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry has announced it will ask President Bush to consider a one-year waiver of trade sanctions against the Soviet Union imposed by the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.

The National Conference “now believes that the president should consider waiving the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment for the period provided by the law,” which is one year, the group said in a statement approved Monday afternoon by the group’s 20-member executive committee.

The move represents a re-evaluation of the position adopted by the National Conference on June 13, 1989. At that time, it decided it would support a waiver if Bush said he had received “appropriate assurances” on four major areas of concern to the conference.

Those concerns are that the Soviets maintain a “sustained level” of high emigration; put strict limits on the amount of time potential emigrants could be denied exit visas on the grounds of access to state secrets; resolve the “poor relatives” problem, in which exit visas are denied anyone whose family members refuse to sign waivers of financial obligation; and make progress on resolving the cases of long-term refuseniks.

The National Conference now feels Bush can satisfy himself that those conditions are met through conversations with the Soviets, said Martin Wenick, the group’s executive director.

The action was taken “against the backdrop of almost two years of sustained high levels of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union,” the group said in its announcement.


Earlier in the day, the group announced that 25,186 Soviet Jews had immigrated to Israel last month, a 24 percent increase over the October figures and an all-time high. A total of 146,436 Soviet Jews have made aliyah so far this year.

An additional 900 Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States in November, according to preliminary statistics released in New York on Monday by HIAS, the international Jewish migration agency.

In announcing its new policy, the National Conference cited an estimate that more than 180,000 Jews will have emigrated from the Soviet Union by the end of the year, following the emigration of over 71,000 in 1989.

The conference, which represents 47 national Jewish organizations and 300 local Jewish federations and community councils, decided early last week to re-evaluate its stance on Jackson-Vanik, which Congress adopted in 1975 as a way of pressuring the Soviet Union to allow more Jews to emigrate.

Wenick said Bush was made aware last Thursday of the review and it “may have been one of the contributing factors” that led him the following day to indicate publicly for the first time that he is considering an early waiver of the amendment’s sanctions.

At a White House news conference last Friday, Bush said he was considering a waiver of trade sanctions now because the Soviet Union faces severe food shortages this winter and also as a way of helping U.S. farmers in the Midwest, who could boost grain exports.

Following the president’s statement, a delegation of National Conference leaders met Monday morning with Brent Scowcroft, Bush’s national security adviser, and “we factored in what he had to say,” Wenick said.

The conference then polled its executive committee by telephone, reaching a “general consensus” in favor of the new position.


Until Friday, Bush had maintained that he would not waive trade sanctions until the Soviet Union enacted long-promised reforms of its emigration policy.

But under Jackson-Vanik, the president simply has to certify that the Soviets are committed to maintaining a sustained, high level of emigration, Wenick explained.

While the amendment says nothing about state secrets, “poor relatives” or long-term refuseniks, “one would assume he’s also going to be mindful of the constituencies here and their concerns and that they will be testifying before any hearings that the Congress will be having on the waiver,” Wenick said.

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, a grass-roots Jewish group representing local Soviet Jewry groups, continues to oppose a waiver until the emigration reforms are codified.

David Waksberg, vice president of the umbrella group, said a Supreme Soviet vote on emigration reform legislation has been delayed for 18 months and that the latest draft is “more restrictive” than earlier ones.

“It seems unlikely that the new law will be even close to the international standards that the president has referred to,” Waksberg said. Any Jackson-Vanik waiver before adoption of such a law “undermines” any such move toward codification, he said.

Waksberg also expressed concerned about a possible “anti-Semitic backlash” that might occur if Soviet Jews continue to receive special emigration benefits not extended to all Soviet citizens through legislation.

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