At the World Conference on Soviet Jewry: Reagan Pledges That the U.S. Will Lead Efforts to Reverse T
Menu JTA Search

At the World Conference on Soviet Jewry: Reagan Pledges That the U.S. Will Lead Efforts to Reverse T

Download PDF for this date

President Reagan pledged, in a personal message to the third World Conference on Soviet Jewry, that the United States “will lead” efforts by the free world “to stem and reverse the trends of plummeting emigration and increasing harassment which plague Soviet Jews.”

His message was delivered by Jeane Kirkpattrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at the opening of the conference here last night, attended by 3,000 Jewish and non-Jewish delegates from 31 countries. Kirkpatrick heads the American delegation as Reagan’s personal emissary.

He stated in his-message that “Durable progress in East-West relations cannot be achieved without concurrent progress in human rights.” Addressing Jews in the Soviet Union, the President declared: “Know that we will not forget them. We will firmly support their just cause.”


The opening session last night was presided over by Simone Veil of France, former President of the Parliament of Europe and a former member of the French Cabinet. Veil said:

“I am moved by honor to attend a conference which points to our brothers and sisters still plagued by anti-Semitism which we hoped would end with the establishment of the State of Israel… We cannot agree that any state has the right to separate families or hold men and women against their will. The Soviet Jews are living under unbearable tyrannical rule.”

Veil cited the sharp drop in Soviet Jewish emigration which is one of the main concerns of the conference. Only 206 Jews left the USSR in January and February, 1983, the lowest number ever recorded, she said. “Soviet Jews are caught in a trap,” Veil stated. “They have no place in the Soviet Union but as a result of their desire to go to Israel they are labelled traitors.”

Veil also referred to the “prisoners of Zion” who carry on in physical and psychological isolation from the rest of the world. “Some collapse under the constant strain of daily harassment and give in but some are not prepared to give in and since they do not, we cannot abandon them. No one can be deaf or silent to their pleas and hardships,” she said.

She urged everyone, including international organizations, trade unions, Jews and non-Jews to show their solidarity to protect human dignity. “Everywhere in the world people of different races and religious beliefs are discriminated against,” Veil said. “Let us denounce this situation and ask that all Jews be able to circumcise their sons, that all Christians be able to baptize their children without harassment. Let us denounce all infringements of human rights.”


She concluded her address with praise for the democratic values Israel displayed during its inquiry into the Beirut refugee camps massacre. “The proof of these values is unprecedented in history. Israel raised herself high today. Let us pay homage to the spiritual and ethical values found in Israel today. Let us stand up against all that stands against this country. Let us strengthen the desire to unite voices and to continue in the struggle for freedom in the world,” Veil said.

Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem said the gathering here of people from all over the world was an indication of Jewish unity. “There are few situations which can unite so many peoples — the subject of human freedom is such a unifying topic,” he said. “It is clear, after looking at this hall, the Jews still have many friends in the world.”

Kollek also noted the importance and significance of holding the conference in Jerusalem. The two previous world conferences for Soviet Jews were held in Brussels. “It is appropriate that this conference is being held in Jerusalem, our united capital, ” he said.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain sent a message to the conference pledging that Britain, together with other Western governments will “continue resolutely to press the Russians for an improvement in their human rights record and to subject that record to the most demanding public scrutiny.”


Kirkpatrick observed the symbolic significance of the conference held “on the eve of Passover, the commemoration of the first exodus, “She proclaimed that “the struggle of Soviet Jews to liberate themselves from bondage burns with special brightness that cannot be extinguished as long as there are people with courage and dignity and a desire for freedom that cannot be denied.”

Kirkpatrick reviewed the clauses of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act which the Soviet Union signed, that stress that “the parties are to expedite and facilitate the reunion of families and that those applying for exit visas should not be deprived of their rights.”

She expressed her sympathy and pride for the “prisoners of Zion” who “are among the heroes of the Soviet Jewry struggle. Their cause is our cause, their ideals our ideals, They shall not be forgotten, They are not alone,” she said.

One former prisoner who has settled in Israel, Yosef Mendelovitch, said in an interview published in Haaretz today that conferences such as this on Soviet Jewry are worth their time and money because the Soviet authorities are very sensitive to them.

Mendelovitch recalled that when he was still in the USSR he heard about similar conferences and they encouraged him and his friends. According to Mendelovitch, the Soviet government has no interest in renewing diplomatic ties with Israel. He contended that “the new regime is especially brutal. Aliya activists from Moscow have written that they feel Stalin is back in power.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund