WASHINGTON (Aug. 19)
American Jewish communal leaders have expressed deep concern that the ouster Monday of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will not bode well for the Soviet Union’s large Jewish minority.
They are particularly concerned that the change of leadership in Moscow may have an adverse impact on the mass emigration of Soviet Jews, who have been pouring out of the country by the thousands each week.
Gorbachev was removed from power early Monday in a bloodless coup by Soviet hard-liners, reinforced by military tanks and soldiers. Vice President Gennady Yanayev was named acting president and chairman of an eight-member ruling committee, which immediately declared a six-month state of emergency.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry issued a statement Monday saying it was “deeply troubled” by the developments and their potential impact on the Soviet Jewish community.
The group called on the new leadership in Moscow to “adhere scrupulously to all of the Soviet Union’s international and constitutional obligations, particularly in the area of human rights, and to continue to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate freely.”
Shoshana Cardin, the group’s chairman, spoke Monday to two high-ranking State Department officials and was assured that the Bush administration is closely monitoring the impact of the Moscow developments on the Jewish community and on emigration.
She and Martin Wenick, the National Conference’s executive director, later conducted a telephone briefing for officials of 110 national Jewish agencies, federations and community relations councils.
Jewish organizational leaders and Soviet Jewry activists expressed concern over the con- servative politics of Acting President Yanayev, and the other members of his ruling committee, who include Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and Internal Affairs Minister Boris Pugo.
‘PURVEYORS OF ANTI-SEMITISM’
“The leaders of today’s extraconstitutional act have been in the forefront of the opposition to the policies of glasnost and perestroika,” observed Cardin.
“The takeover by the military and the KGB means that the most virulent purveyors of anti-Semitism are now in control,” said Pamela Cohen, national president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. An anti-Semitic backlash, she said, is a “distinct possibility.”
David Waksberg, a vice president of the group, cited speeches given by Kryuchkov last December and by Pugo this spring in which they talked of “foreign subversives” threatening the country. In the language of Soviet conservatives, “Jew equals Zionist, equals cosmopolitan, equals foreign subversive,” he said.
David Harris, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, said Yanayev’s committee includes “sectors of Soviet society that have traditionally opposed emigration” as a fundamental right, including the KGB,
But New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the ecumenical Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said Yanayev told him in Moscow last March that he supported free emigration. Schneier said he did not believe the new government would “abandon any policies in place, such as the granting of permission for Jews to emigrate.”
While numerous American Jewish groups issued statements Monday expressing concern that emigration could be interrupted, some analysts doubted the Soviet leadership would risk jeopardizing promised economic assistance from the West, including $1.5 billion in U.S. credits due to be released soon for the purchase of food.
Mark Talisman, Washington representative of the Council of Jewish Federations, predicted that the new Soviet government would not restrict emigration because “they cannot do anything in regard to their economy without additional assistance from the outside.”
MOSCOW AIRPORT WAS FUNCTIONING
President Bush announced Monday that U.S. and other Western aid to the Soviets was being “put on hold.” It was not immediately clear whether he would still ask Congress to ratify the U.S.-Soviet trade agreement he signed with Gorbachev in June 1990.
On Monday, the Union of Councils called on Bush to withhold the trade agreement. It also urged him to cancel U.S. participation in an international human rights conference scheduled to take place in Moscow next month.
There were conflicting reports Monday about whether freedom of movement in and out of the Soviet Union had been interrupted.
There were some reports that borders had been closed. But both the State Department and the Union of Councils reported that Moscow’s international airport was operating Monday.
There were unconfirmed reports that some offices of OVIR, the Soviet emigration bureau, had closed Monday. But both the National Conference and the Union of Councils said they were unprepared at this point to draw any conclusions about a change in emigration policy.