WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama enacted a bill pushed by Jewish groups that graduated Russia and Moldova out of Jackson-Vanik provisions restricting trade.
"Russia’s record isn’t perfect," said Mark Levin, the director of NCSJ, a key group backing the new law, at the Friday signing ceremony at the White House. "But this law recognizes important progress on religious freedom and emigration, and it’s the right thing to do."
The 1974 amendment restricts trades with countries that unlawfully restrict emigration and was a tool in bringing about Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union, although it has subsequently been applied to other nations.
NCSJ, now known as Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia, was previously known as the National Council on Soviet Jewry.
In its statement welcoming the enactment of the law, NCSJ said it "supported graduation because Russia and Moldova have a twenty-year record of allowing unrestricted emigration abroad." It also said that "both countries have also expanded opportunities for Jews who choose to stay. Jewish individuals and communities can practice Judaism and participate in Jewish culture without reservation."
The U.S. business community had lobbied for Russia’s removal from Jackson-Vanik, in part because the measure inhibited trade with one of the world’s biggest economies, but also because Russia’s recent ascension to the World Trade Organization would allow it to pursue redress against countries that blocked trade.
Provisions in the new legislation allow the United States to isolate and seize the funds of individual Russians suspected of human rights abuses.