20,000 Demonstrate in Tel Aviv; Mrs. Meir: ‘this Iron Gate Too Will Fall’
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20,000 Demonstrate in Tel Aviv; Mrs. Meir: ‘this Iron Gate Too Will Fall’

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More than 20,000 shouting, fist-shaking demonstrators jammed City Hall Square here last night, burned a red flag and cheered when Premier Golda Meir told them: “We believe that the day will come when our brethren will come not only from the free world but from behind the Iron Curtain. The day will come when this iron gate too will fall.” The mass rally was typical of the fury and emotion that swept over Israel after the Leningrad 11 – nine of them Jews – were sentenced Thursday. The anger of the Israelis was fanned by news that at least 20 more Russian Jews will go on trial shortly in Leningrad, Riga and Kishinev. “We have not come to beg for mercy for the Jews sentenced in Leningrad. We demand justice,” Mrs. Meir declared. “News of this sentence, this mockery of the very concept of law has reached all corners of the world.” she said. “On behalf of the government of Israel and the Jewish people we tell those who are detained and those already sentenced that it is as though this entire people were with them at that trial.” Mrs. Meir was heard by the thousands in the square and thousands more packed into side streets and on rooftops and balconies. The City Hall facade was covered with a huge banner proclaiming “Let My People Go.” That theme was echoed in the chants of the crowd and on the thousands of smaller placards and banners they brandished.

(The official Soviet news agency Tass dismissed the Israeli reaction to the sentences as “another fit of anti-Soviet hysteria.” Tass charged that “Zionist circles” were “interfering with Soviet judicial procedure” and claimed that international criticism of the sentences “actually is masterminded by Israel” to divert attention from the “sinister doings” of the Israelis. The tough response by Tass indicated to some observers that the appeals reportedly filed by defense counsel on behalf of the Leningrad defendants have little chance of success.) Few in Israel took seriously the assertion by Meir Wilner, leader of Israel’s pro-Moscow Rakach Communist Party, that he had “every reason to assume that the Soviet authorities would commute the death sentences” of two of the Leningrad accused. Wilner, a Knesset member, made that statement at a meeting in Haifa yesterday of the Young Communist League. He justified the Leningrad trial, taking the Moscow line that the accused were tried not because they are Jews but because they committed a criminal offense. In her address here last night. Premier Meir declared that Jews stand alone and the world looks on in silence when they are harmed. “The world is not just and there is no just society so long as the just rights of the Jewish people are not recognized,” she declared.


But Mrs. Meir acknowledged that “we can derive some encouragement at this time from the repercussions all over the world of the Leningrad trial,” noting that “even the Communist front has been shattered.” Her reference was to the criticism of the sentences expressed in the French and Italian Communist Party organs, L’Humanite and L’Unita. President Zalman Shazar appealed to Kremlin leaders over the Israel Radio yesterday to commute the death sentences in the Leningrad trial and to permit Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. He said it was especially cynical of the Soviet authorities to pronounce sentence on Christmas eve when they knew that the Christian world was celebrating. Prayers for the Leningrad prisoners were voiced by a group of Dominican monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in East Jerusalem today. A group of 27 Roman Catholics from the United States, visiting Jerusalem for Christmas, sent a letter to the Jerusalem Post stating, “We Roman Catholic priests, brothers, sisters and lay teachers wish to join the Jewish community in what we hope will be a world-wide protest against the latest demonstration of Soviet inhumanity.” Archbishop Joseph Raya, head of the Greek Catholic community here, scored the trial and sentences Friday as “awful” and “terrible.” He said he was praying that “The Almighty enlighten the minds of the Soviet leaders so that the death sentences will not be carried out.

The Russian Orthodox Church Mission in Jerusalem, which is controlled from Moscow, turned down a request from Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, to convey a letter to Premier Alexsei N. Kosygin. He said his church was not political and could not perform a political task. Foreign Minister Abba Eban said on a radio broadcast Friday night that Israel has approached ten foreign governments at the highest level to intervene on behalf of the Leningrad accused. Eban said, “What took place this Christmas in Leningrad is an event of historical dimensions that can be compared with another trial in Paris many years ago (the Dreyfus trial).” He said the Leningrad sentences “should serve as a test to the world’s conscience that will no doubt find expression in the face of the cruelty that has come to light in this trial.” Eban declared that while in the past “the liberation of Soviet Jewry was only considered possible, it has now become inevitable.” In an unprecedented manifestation of unity between government and opposition here, the Knesset unanimously adopted on Friday a resolution urging revocation of the two Leningrad death sentences. The resolution, which was approved by unanimous show-of-hands vote, was proposed by Menachem Beigin on behalf of all the parties but the pro-Moscow Rakach Communist, who were absent. Israeli law courts will observe two minutes of silence tomorrow morning.

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