Menu JTA Search

Head of Ncsj Warns U.S. Senate of Danger to Jews in Former USSR

A Soviet Jewry advocate warned at a Senate hearing this week that Jews living in the republics of the former Soviet Union could become victims of a “mass outbreak of violence” if those new nations are overtaken by economic or political crises.

Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European Affairs, which is considering technical assistance to the republics.

He stressed that any aid bill should include general language stating those countries’ human rights obligations under the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

But Wenick and other Jewish spokesmen addressed a sparsely attended meeting. Apart from Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who chairs the panel, and a few staff people, no subcommittee members of either party showed up during the 3 1/2 hour session on Tuesday, one of six on the aid issue.

Wenick stressed that the new nations that emerged from the collapsed Soviet Union “must accept the obligation of making all their citizens truly equal before the law, by guaranteeing the security of the members of every ethnic and religious minority.”

He observed that “while there has as yet been no organized or mass outbreak of violence against Jews, it is clear that, given the current political and economic crisis in these countries, anything is possible.”

Last week, Secretary of State James Baker told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he would be receptive to a human rights safeguard clause in an aid bill so long as it did not bind the president in conducting foreign policy.

Testimony was also heard Tuesday from three NCSJ constituent groups — the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.

Henry Siegman, executive director of the AJCongress, praised the new republics for not seeking to block “the departure of Jews who seek to emigrate or to be reunited with their families in Israel.”

Most leaders in the republics have condemned anti-Semitism and supported legislation “intended to preclude a return to discrimination and persecution” as practiced by the former Soviet Union, Siegman added.

Alfred Moses, president of the American Jewish Committee, who spoke on the treatment of Jews in other Eastern European countries, said that in many of them, “There have been disturbing outcroppings of anti-Semitism.”

Melvin Salberg, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, urged the Bush administration to seek approval from Eastern European countries to let ADL staffers teach programs in them to combat prejudice.

NEXT STORY