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Supreme Soviet Members Hear U.S. Senators Condemn Violations of Human Rights of Jews in the USSR

January 26, 1978
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The members of the Supreme Soviet heard a statement from 27 U.S. Senators condemning “continuing violations by the Soviet authorities of the human rights of three million Jews in the USSR” and the Soviet delegation then tried to dismiss the Soviet Jewry issue as unimportant.

The confrontation lasting about 10 minutes took place at the Capital yesterday when the Soviet delegation met with a Senate counterpart group that is under the leadership of Sen. Alan Cranston (D.Calif.). This program of alternating visits began in 1974 with a Soviet visit to Washington followed by two U.S. Congressional visits to the Soviet Union in 1975.

Cranston read extracts of a letter to them signed by more than a quarter of the Senate’s members urging that the Senate delegation to the talks emphasize human rights during the parliamentary program. The letter, addressed to Cranston, was originated by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D.R.I.).

After Cranston read extracts of the letter, the Soviet delegation’s leader, Boris Ponomerev, sought to play down the condition of Soviet Jewry or treat the issue seriously, according to a Capitol source who attended the meeting. The source said Ponomerev stressed that there are “more important issues” than the Jewish matter and the U.S. should not interfere in the Soviet Union’s internal affairs or be concerned about them.

Ponomerev is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet of Nationalities and secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. He also was described as having been the architect of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.


Pell said he initiated the letter to Cranston “in view of the continuing concern of the Senate, indeed of the entire Congress and the American people, with the observance of human rights accords in the USSR, with the just treatment of would-be Soviet emigres and with the expeditious handling of the tragic case of Anatoly Shcharansky, a Soviet Jew detained since last March in a Moscow prison and refused permission to emigrate to Israel.”

The statement by the 27 Senators declared: “Today, more than sixty years after the Soviet government drafted the Declaration of Rights of the Peoples and more than three decades after the United Nations reaffirmed the importance of human rights for all men and women, the Jews in the Soviet Union are still denied their rights to live or leave as Jews.”

The letter pointed out “our deep concern” regarding Soviet practices that include: “continuing violation by the Soviet authorities of the human rights of three million Jews in the USSR. Soviet Jews are systematically denied access to places of worship, and are allowed no educational institutions in which they may train future rabbis and teachers. Jewish children are cut off from their heritage and from the opportunity to learn Hebrew, the historic language of the Jewish people.”

In addition, the letter continued, there is “denial by the Soviet authorities of permission for 900 Soviet Jewish families to join their kin in Israel…and harassment by the Soviet authorities of those seeking emigration rights. In defiance of the spirit and letter of the Helsinki Final Act and its guarantees, the Soviet authorities continue to make difficult the process by which would-be emigres receive exit permits…”

The burden of the Soviet response to the Senators’ letter was from a member identified as Lev B. Shapiro, described as coming from the Jewish autonomous province in eastern Siberia. He contended there is no Jewish problem and that only two percent of Jews asking to emigrate are denied the privilege.

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