Conference Affirms Solidarity with Soviet Jews; Kahane Episode Leaves Bitter Residue
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Conference Affirms Solidarity with Soviet Jews; Kahane Episode Leaves Bitter Residue

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The world conference on Soviet Jewry got back to normal business on its final day. At the closing session late this afternoon the 800 delegates adopted a declaration affirming their solidarity “with our Jewish brothers in the Soviet Union” and urged Soviet authorities “to recognize the right of Jews who so desire to return to Israel” and to let those who stay “exercise fully their right to live in accord with their Jewish cultural and religious heritage.” The declaration was adopted without debate. But the fraternal mood in which the conference convened here last Tuesday remained badly shaken in the aftermath of yesterday’s appearance of Rabbi Meir Kahane, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League; the conference’s refusal to admit him; and his subsequent arrest and expulsion from Belgium. While conference spokesmen and many delegation leaders hailed the gathering as a “memorable historic experience” that would go far toward aiding Soviet Jews, the Kahane episode left a residue of bitterness among Kahane’s ardent supporters and among many delegates who reject the JDL’s tactics but feel the conference erred in barring its leader from speaking. On the other hand, many delegates felt the action of the conference presidium was fully justified on the grounds that Kahane came to Brussels as a “spoiler.” Many delegates resented a speech by Menachem Beigin, leader of the Herut faction of Israel’s Gahal opposition party, who declared that the “time was passed when Jews denounced other Jews.” That remark was taken as a slap at the conference leadership who issued a statement yesterday castigating the JDL and its leader.

Beigin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later, “I don’t know why this uproar. I did not agree with the way the Kahane incident was handled and it was my good right to say so.” He told the JTA further that he “was not referring in any direct way to anybody at the conference when I spoke of denouncing Jews. You can denounce people in many but not necessarily by running to the police.” The JTA correspondent here found no evidence to support charges by some factions that the conference was responsible for Kahane’s arrest. The Belgian Ministry of Justice issued a communique about the Kahane affair today. It noted that Kahane had come to Belgium to attend the conference on Soviet Jewry but the conference organizers made it known that he was not a delegate and ushers at the conference had orders not to admit him. Nevertheless, the statement went on, Kahane told Belgian authorities that he wanted to speak at the gathering and to avoid a disturbance, the Minister of Justice was obliged to remove him temporarily from Belgian territory. Support for Kahane’s right to speak, though not for his tactics was expressed by several delegates who participated in a symposium of writers and artists on Soviet Jewry last Night. Among them were the American playwright Paddy chayefsky, and producer-director Otto Preminger who made the movie version of the Leon Uris novel “Exodus,” Preminger created a stir when he told the conference that its treatment of Kahane was “just as contemptible and wrong as what the Nazis and the Soviet Communists have done.”


Preminger was applauded from some parts of the hall but his analogy drew a storm of protest from most delegates. Preminger said he apologized because he didn’t want to give the Russians the satisfaction of seeing Jews at loggerheads, but he added that the conference owed an apology to Kahane. Chayefsky supported Kahane’s plea for more action and fewer words. “We should put together something more than a cry of pain and an appeal to the conscience of the world which never has worked very well.” he said. (The Kahane episode had repercussions in Israel. Addressing a dinner for a group of pioneer Woman leaders from the United States last night, Premier Golda Meir described the JDL as a “tragedy” and said “no small group can assume that it knows better than the organized Jewish world and use methods that play into the hands of our enemies.”) The delegates put aside their differences when the closing session of the conference was addressed late today by Israel’s former Premier David Ben-Gurion, The 83-year-old elder statesman had been confined to bed with bronchitis, and was unable to attend the earlier sessions. He received an ovation that lasted several minutes. Speaking in Hebrew, he said, “This conference bears witness to the devotion of the Jewish people to Russian Jews.” Observing that Soviet Jews are denied the right to teach or speak Hebrew, Ben-Gurion said, “We have many complaints against the Soviet authorities, but we fight for the rights of Soviet Jews by clean means. The Russians themselves–and there are millions and millions of decent Russians–will understand our struggle.”

Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, president of the American Jewish Conference, told a conference here yesterday that “whatever the considerations of world politics may be, we cannot and shall not moderate our insistance on the right of our brothers to leave the Soviet Union.” Rabbi Lelyveld said that “no one in his right mind seeks to worsen or exacerbate the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.” However, he went on, “this is just one horn of our dilemma. The other is that no one of moral sensibility and moral conviction believes that human rights are any less sacrosanct in the USSR than they are in Israel or anywhere else.” Rabbi Lelyveld observed that the Soviet Union “can be brought to respond. The sensitivity of its leaders can be seen in the fact that this conference itself cause the Kremlin to ‘blow its cool.’ They have even revived the ancient and discredited charge of ‘international conspiracy’–a charge reminiscent of the infamous protocols–against us. We say to them in turn, that if this open and democratic assemblage dedicated to freedom and the rights of man is a conspiracy, then let them make the most of it.” Some practical decisions emerged from the conference such as coordination of the work for Soviet Jews with governments, the United Nations, non-governmental bodies and the mass media. The conference had the wholehearted support of the Israel government expressed in a message from Premier Golda Meir and was supported by the Jewish Agency, one of the conference sponsors.

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