The Reagan Administration today denounced as “patently false” the assertion by the head of the “Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public” that the majority of Soviet Jews who desire to emigrate from the Soviet Union have already left.
“Many thousands of Jews, some estimates range into the hundreds of thousands, are still denied this fundamental right of freedom of movement on the flimsiest pretext,” State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said. “It is particularly deplorable that the Soviet regime should now enlist some people of Jewish ancestry to participate in their anti-Semitic diatribe.”
Today’s sharp U.S. rebuke followed the claim by Samuel Zivs, a Jewish law professor in Moscow who heads the anti-Zionist group, which was recently formed by the Soviet authorities, that all Russian Jews who wanted to leave the USSR have already done so and that Zionist groups are “juggling figures” to show that large numbers of Jews still wish to emigrate.
Zivs, whose claims were carried in Tass, the official Soviet news agency, told a Moscow press conference yesterday that “The absolute majority of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave in order to reunite with their familes abroad have left by now. The Jews left in Russia have no desire to leave their country except those who have fallen victim to Zionist propaganda which has brain-washed them, ” Ziv, who serves as First Deputy of the anti-Zionist committee, was quoted as saying by Tass.
According to Tass, the committee, established last April, endorses Israel’s right to exist but is opposed to the policies of the Premier Menachem Begin’s government and supports the creation of a Palestinian state. The committee is chaired by Gen. David Dragunsky, one of the highest ranking Jewish officers in the Red Army, now retired.
SOVIET STATEMENT CALLED ‘ANTI-SEMITIC’
The State Department said today that “while this particular statement was purported to reject anti-Semitism, in fact the basic thrust of this and other anti-Zionist propaganda is anti-Semitic.” Romberg pointed out specifically a statement by Dragunsky who was quoted as saying, “The time is now for us to make more concerted efforts to counter international Zionism and to rebuff the anti-Soviet campaign it mounts. The actions of Begin and his thugs are very similar to those of Hitler’s atrocities,” he was quoted as saying by Tass.
Romberg said the U.S. “condemn(s) particularly the statements” by Dragunsky “who equated Zionism with Nazism. Such anti-Semitic propaganda under the guise of anti-Zionism or any other cover is an extreme distortion of the truth and is absolutely unacceptable, ” Romberg said.
The statements as reported by Tass by the members of the anti-Zionist committee also drew a sharp rebuke from Soviet Jewish groups. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) said the committee is the “larger component of a new propaganda campaign in which Soviet authorities are trying to delegitimize Israel and Zionism and make the desire for repatriation to Israel border on criminality.”
The NCSJ, in a statement released today, said, “The propaganda offensive takes place at a time when the emigration of Jews has virtually ended and an average of 100 a month are permitted to leave. Despite the claims of the anti-Zionist committee … Western monitors know that at least 300,000 invitations have been sent to Soviet Jews to permit them to take the first step in leaving. These have not been acted upon.”
The Soviet authorities, the NCSJ charged today, have created this committee “using people who are ostensibly Jews, but who were never involved with fellow Jews and are rejected by Soviet Jews as their spokes-people. The practice of using selected Jews to express Soviet opinion on matters of Jewish concern is not new.” The NCSJ said Dragunsky and Zivs have “been trotted out in the past to deny that there is any persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union and that Jews want to leave.”
The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews said in New York yesterday that “we have thousands of documented cases of families still forcibly divided by Kremlin policy and we have every reason to believe there are many tens of thousands more. Under any circumstances, the Soviets are clearly violating their repeated affirmation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which obligates them to release anyone seeking to emigrate, not just those lucky enough to have immediate family members in Israel, as the Kremlin requires.”
MOSCOW JEWS PROTEST COMMITTEE
The President of the American Jewish Committee, Howard Friedman, said today that the attacks by the anti-Zionist committee is the “latest evidence in an apparent attempt to sever the links between Jews in the USSR and Jews in the West by means of vicious anti-Israel, anti-Zionist campaign, and in fact, raising the spector of dual loyalties by asking Soviet Jews implicitly to choose between Jewish sentiments and Soviet patriotism.”
The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Alleck Resnick, said the statements by Zivs and Dragunsky “are part of an aggressive anti-Zionist campaign. They are desperate attempts to persuade the West that there is no point in continuing to agitate for Soviet Jewish emigration. But we know better, and so does our government.”
Meanwhile, the NCSJ reported that six prominent Moscow Jews issued a letter last week protesting the formation of the anti-Zionist committee and singled out Dragunsky’s right “to declare in the name of all the Jews who are Soviet citizens that they do not want to leave the USSR. “
The letter asked “How is it, that you have not noticed the 300,000 Jews who, in spite of enormous difficulties, managed to leave the USSR during the last 12 years?” The letter was signed by former Prisoner of Conscience Boris Chernobilsky and his wife, Elena, Viktor Elistratov, Natalia and Gennady Khasir and Evgeny Grechanovsky.
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.