Officials of the State Department and the U.S. Postal Service publicly blamed each other today for the U.S. failure to bring formal complaints to high Soviet authorities for the non-delivery of mail from Americans to Soviet citizens, mostly Jews, or to lodge complaints against the Soviet government with the Universal Postal Union (UPU).
The conflict arose at the second hearing by the House Subcommittee on Postal Operations and Services, on what its chairman, Rep. James M. Hanley (D. NY), said was “the failure of Soviet Union officials to insure uninterrupted delivery of U.S. mail to its citizens.”
Appearing before the subcommittee were Edgar S. Stock, director of the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of International Postal Affairs, Edward S. Walker, general manager of the Postal Service’s International Mail Division, Mark Schneider, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), and Ruth Newman, postal affairs manager of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ).
Goodman charged that the non-delivery of mail and parcels to Soviet Jews was “one of the employed instruments to carry out” the isolation of “Soviet Jews from the rest of the Jewish community.” Newman accused the Soviet Union of “abrogating the letter and intent” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki accords and violating international laws and agreements established in the constitution of the UPU.
INQUIRIES ABOUT 2522 PIECES OF MAIL
Walker told the subcommittee that in the year ending last month, the U.S. Postal Service received 2522 inquiries about mail and parcels sent to the Soviet Union from Americans that did not reach the addresses. He said the number was the average for the last five years.
The conflict between State Department and Postal Service officials centered on where the matter ceased to be a strictly postal issue and became one of diplomatic concern. Stock said the Postal Service “brought substantiated complaints to the attention of the Soviet postal authorities” but that he had only “discussed most generally” the issues with the “Soviet Desk” at the State Department. He said that in his six years in office, he received only one letter from the State Department about it. Diplomatic action is up to the State Department, Stock said.
Schneider said that “Traditionally, the Postal Service has responsibility for raising these matters” and that as far as he knew “we have not received this request” from the Postal Service to take it up diplomatically with the Soviet Union. Stock said that “in specific cases” the Postal Service brings complaints directly to Soviet postal authorities but “where it goes beyond a postal nature we have brought it to the attention of the State Department.”
Schneider said that the U.S. had raised the matter at the Helsinki Act conference in Belgrade last spring but not bilaterally with the Soviet government on the diplomatic level.
DELIBERATE ISOLATION OF SOVIET JEWS
Goodman, in 16 pages of testimony, said the NCSJ and the world community perceives a process of deliberately isolating Soviet Jews from relatives, friends and Jewish communities in order to speed the process of assimilation. “At stake is the future of one-fifth of the Jewish people and its spiritual and physical survival,” he said.
He noted that in spite of clear obligations under International law to promote cultural exchanges, Soviet authorities systematically confiscate books dealing with Jewish culture, history or language.
“Under a variety of pretexts authorities confiscate books of Judaism and Jewish history, books that were, ironically, exhibited at the Moscow Book Fair in September, 1977. In this way, attempts by Soviet Jews to pass on their traditions, history and culture are being thwarted. Political considerations have therefore determined how customs officials and postal authorities will function in the matter of parcels as well as letters.”
Newman presented the committee with eight exhibits and a 10-page statement that included copies of markings by Soviet authorities of mail intended for Jewish recipients. “In all cases,” she said, “they have made the Soviet Jews the victims, as well as those brave Soviet citizens who hold dissenting views within their society.”
She said that the UCSJ has an “Adopt a Family Data Bank” in Minneapolis whose files “are full of letters from refuseniks telling of long breaks in their receipt of mail from their American friends.” The UCSJ assisted the “Scientists for Shcharansky,” a group of 400 Americans, in arranging for Avital Shcharansky’s U.S. tour on behalf of her imprisoned husband, Anatoly.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.