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Soviet Embassy Refuses Petition Signed by 700 Scientists on Behalf of Soviet Jews

January 12, 1971
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A delegation representing 700 American scientists who signed a petition on behalf of Russian Jews, was rebuffed at the Soviet Embassy when it sought to present the petition to Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin today. Alexander P. Yevstafyev, the Embassy’s press counsellor, said he could not accept the petition because the statements in it “were not true.” According to one member of the delegation however. Yevstafyev told them that if the Middle East situation improved, the attitude of the Soviet Union toward the emigration of Jews would change. The scientists, most of them employed at the National Institute of Health, petitioned Soviet authorities to relax restrictions on minorities within the Soviet Union. They asked specifically for the release of Jews recently sentenced or facing trial in an alleged hijack attempt in Leningrad and for the right of emigration for those Jews who wish to leave the Soviet Union. The scientists said they were speaking privately and not as members of the National Institute of Health.

The petition and an accompanying statement, were addressed to Ambassador Dobrynin. Copies were sent to President Nixon, Secretary of State Rogers and Secretary General U Thant of the United Nations. Among the signatories were two Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Marshall Nirenberg who was cited for his work on the genetic code and Dr. Julius Axelrod for his research on the nervous system. Several scientists at Catholic University and the University of Maryland who heard about the petition, asked to sign it. Dr. Jack Cohen, a London-born biochemist at the N.I.H. who was the prime mover in the petition action said it was “absolutely spontaneous” and added that many more signatures could have been obtained if there was more time. He acknowledged that a few scientists declined to sign the petition on grounds that they never signed such documents or because they felt it was too restrictive by its emphasis on the oppression of Jews.

The petition urged Soviet authorities to allow-Jews to emigrate “by the legal procedure that has been followed by several hundred others,” Jews who have been permitted to leave the Soviet Union. They also asked the authorities to “grant national and cultural and religious minorities their national rights,” In their accompanying statement, the scientists asked that a group of them be allowed to attend further trials of Jews in Russia if they take place, as observers. The scientists issued a supplementary statement to the press in which they deplored violence against Jews in Russia and against Soviet personnel and property in this country. “As responsible scientists we abhor the use of violence in all forms, both its use against Jews in Russia and the recent bombing of the Soviet Cultural Mission in Washington,” the statement said. “In doing so, we wish to redirect attention to the basic issue of the situation of those arrested and tried in Russia.” The statement addressed to Ambassador Dobrynin noted that the sentence of one of the Leningrad defendants, Edvard Kuznetsov, was commuted from death to 15 years’ hard labor. Referring to the diet prescribed for prisoners, they said “this is calculated to be death by starvation instead of execution.”

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