Is it glasnost or perestroika? Can a leopard change its spots? Whatever, Samuil Zivs, for years the most vociferous anti-Zionist Jew in Soviet officialdom, is ardently courting Jews and has visibly softened, if not gone soft, on Israel.
Until it was dissolved recently, Zivs headed the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public, an official organization that relentlessly attacked Israel, Soviet Jews seeking exit visas and those active in their behalf.
Now Zivs is talking about bringing prayer books and kosher food to the USSR, organizing an exhibit of Judaica there and cultural exchanges with Jewish communities in the West.
Zivs has been more or less a permanent fixture in the Soviet delegation to the annual six-week conference of the United Nations Human Rights Commission here. He also participated in the U.S.-Soviet summit meetings in Geneva, Reykjavik and Washington.
This year, attending the human rights conference, Zivs spoke at length to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which he had all but ignored in past years. He even asked the JTA correspondent for introductions to prominent members of the Swiss Jewish community.
And he assured the JTA that regardless of “false rumors,” the number of Jews allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1988 will not be less than in 1987.
According to Zivs, 9,971 Soviet Jews emigrated last year. He said exit visas were issued to 10,305, but that 334 changed their minds after getting visas and preferred to remain in the USSR.
His count was higher than that of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, which reported last month that 8,155 Soviet Jews emigrated last year.
Zivs also reported a “great change” in official Soviet policy toward Jews. He noted that when the Soviet Academy of Science voted for new members last December, 11 of those elected were Jews.
On the diplomatic front, Zivs repeated that Moscow will restore diplomatic relations with Israel when an international conference for Middle East peace convenes.
He said he has received a request from the Beth Hatefutzoth (Jewish Diaspora Museum) in Israel to organize an exhibit there of Judaica from the Soviet Union. Zivs visited Israel in 1982 at the invitation of the Communist Party there.
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.