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Soviet Jews May Become Scapegoats if Reforms Fail, Ex-refusenik Warns

March 10, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jews will be made the scapegoats if the Soviet Union’s attempts at economic reforms do not benefit the average Soviet citizen, a longtime refusenik who immigrated to Israel only last month warned Wednesday.

The economic improvements have not yet brought any tangible benefits to the Soviet people and their discontent could soon be directed against Jews, Roald (Alec) Zelichonok told the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

Zelichonok and his wife, Galina, both engineers from Leningrad, had first applied to emigrate in 1978, but had been denied repeatedly on grounds of possession of state secrets. A well-known Hebrew teacher, Zelichonok was sentenced in 1985 to three years in prison for “defamation of the Soviet state.”

He was released along with other prisoners of conscience in March 1987, and was one of the refuseniks who met with President Reagan during his visit to Moscow in May 1988.

Speaking at the UCSJ’s biannual congressional briefing on Soviet Jewry on Capitol Hill, Zelichonok said that the changes in human rights under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev were “superficial” and were made to win economic benefits from the West.

“They need your money and because of that, they are trying to win your hearts,” he said.

Zelichonok said that he and other Soviet Jews owe their freedom to pressure from the American people and the U.S. Congress. He said thousands of other Soviet Jews still want to leave. “Don’t forget them,” he urged.

“The Jackson-Vanik Amendment saved our lives in the past, and it is saving it now,” he said.


Two members of Congress who participated in the briefing stressed that Congress will not consider a waiver of the amendment before the Soviet Union puts into law the changes it has promised in human rights practices.

These include measures modifying the rules barring emigration for those considered to possess state secrets and for those whose relatives refuse to issue required waivers of financial obligation.

Jackson-Vanik, which links U.S. most-favored-nation trade benefits for the Soviet Union with increased emigration, allows for an 18-month waiver if the president believes emigration has substantially increased. The American Jewish community is currently reviewing whether a waiver should be granted.

“It is still too early too consider a Jackson-Vanik waiver,” Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) said at the briefing. He and Rep. Steny Hoyer (DMd.), the co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, were presented with the Union of Councils’ Henry Jackson Leadership Award.

Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed that “it would be premature to grant a waiver of Jackson-Vanik at this point.”

But, arguing that “real” changes have been made in the Soviet Union, he said Congress could consider a “temporary waiver” of the Stevenson Amendment, which would allow the Soviets to obtain credits from the Export-Import Bank.

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