Some 150,000 People Rally in Support of Soviet Jews
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Some 150,000 People Rally in Support of Soviet Jews

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Hoisting banners and placards calling on the Soviet Union to allow Jewish activists, Prisoners of Conscience and refuseniks to emigrate tens of thousands of persons today joined with national and state legislators, Jewish community activists and leaders in a mass human rights rally in support of Soviet Jewry.

Under hazy skies, some 150,000 persons gathered across from the United Nations in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in a dramatic display of support and solidarity with Soviet Jewry, a community under increased government harassment and intimidation as well as subjected to a government sponsored anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet media.

As the current rate of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union continues to drop — 74 were permitted to emigrate in April — 1984 will be the worst year on record for Jews seeking to emigrate, according to the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry (GNYCSJ), sponsors of the 13th annaul Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry.

Only 1,314 Jews were granted exit visas during 1983, as compared to 51,320 Jews who emigrated in 1979, a peak year in Jewish emigration, according the GNYCSJ. “Forty years from now, let it not be written of the Jewish community today that we failed to press the case of our fellow Jews, that we were disunited in our action and purpose or that we were afraid or felt powerless to stir up public opinion,” said Herbert Kronish, GNYCSJ chairman.


Of the estimated Soviet Jewish population of two-and-a-half million, more than 20,000 have been denied exit visas, many of who have been waiting for as many as 15 years, according to the GNYCSJ. Kronish said that some 400,000 have begun the process of applying for permission to leave the Soviet Union.

Those who have applied for emigration visas and are denied permission to leave are subjected to persecution by Soviet authorities and loss of employment. Failure to maintain a job in the Soviet Union can lead to arrest for “parasitism,” a frequent tactic used by police against Jews wishing to emigrate.


Before gathering in the Plaza across from the United Nations, thousands marched for one mile along Fifth Avenue, led by Mayor Edward Koch who lit a “Torch of Freedom.” He along with other officials were greeted for the first time in the history of the Solidarity Sunday rally by the New York Archbishop as the entourage passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Newly installed New York Archbishop John O’Connor greeted the marchers and expressed his support with the aims of the rally. He told Koch and other elected officials that “You are doing good work” for Soviet Jews. O’Connor indicated that he would participate in the Solidarity Sunday rally next year if his schedule permitted.

Kronish read a telegram from President Reagan expressing the Administration’s support and concern for the human rights of Soviet Jews. “Both privately and publicly American representatives have repeatedly expressed our concerns to the Soviet leadership,” Reagan said.

“It is our intention to focus public attention on this issue,” the telegram continued. “I assure you of my commitment to do all that I can to ease the suffering of Soviet Jews and secure their human rights.” But Kronish, after reading Reagan’s telegram to the mass of people, criticized the President for failing to send a “high-ranking” official to today’s rally.

Governor Mario Cuomo stated: “By declaring their right to the exercise of their conscience, the refuseniks have called attention to the same right of millions of other Soviet citizens, Catholics, Baptists, Orthodox, Moslem.

“By insisting on being Jews, they have questioned the very uniformity of thought and belief that the entire apparatus of gulags and mental asylums and interrogation centers has been put in place to maintain. That’s why the Soviet authorities are so frightened and threatened by these men and women, by what they represent — the persistence of dissent, the tenacity of belief, the will to freedom.”


Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D. N. Y.) questioned U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and declared: “The time has come to consider whether the U.S. should continue to turn a blind eye to the Soviet Union’s flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the Helsinki Accords. Our continued silence implies an almost obscene acquiescence to the Soviet’s confinued violation of human rights.”

Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. N. Y.) noted the Soviet government campaign to “undermine the very legitimacy of the Jewish people. Linking Zionism to racism, the Soviets are seeking to dehumanize their Jewish citizens repeating for all the world to see the Nazi efforts of debasing the very tenants of civilization. In squeezing off the flow of Jewish immigrants they attempt to cynically use them as pawns in the world of international diplomacy.


Among the speakers was Avital Shcharansky, whose husband Anatoly has been in a Soviet prison since 1977 for his Jewish emigration movement activities and who has become a symbol of the Soviet Jewish emigration movement. Mrs. Shcharansky called for the immediate release of the some 20 Soviet Jewish Prisoners of Conscience now being held on a variety of charges in Soviet jails and camps or in internal exile.

“Anatoly finds the courage to continue his struggle against the most powerful tyranny the world has ever known because he knows that Israel, its people, its land, its law — in all generations and in all places — is bound up with his struggle,” she declared. “The spirit of the indivisible unity that is Israel shares the cell of the solitary prisoner in Chistopol Prison, my husband. All of mankind has stake in the outcome of his struggle.”


Koch, in his remarks to the rally, noted with scorn a book written by Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko titled, “Human Rights in the Soviet Union.” In it according to Koch, the Soviet leader, for example, noted that the people of the Soviet Union read more books than anywhere else in the world.

“How many of those books and booklets had anything to offer to Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union and how many of them were filled with ridicule and hatred for Jews and Jewish culture,” Koch asked. He suggested that Chernenko re-read his book professing human rights to all Soviet citizens.

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