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Broad Coalition of Groups, Warning That the Situation of Soviet Jewry is Becoming ‘desperate’, Urge

August 14, 1984
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Warning that the situation for Soviet Jewry is becoming “desperate” 34 Jewish, Christian, peace, human rights and Black organizations sent a cable to Soviet president Constantine Chernenko and Soviet prosecutors today urging them to revoke a two-year sentence against a 28-year-old Moscow Jewish refusnik.

The refusenik, Aleksandr Yakir, an electrical engineer, was on trial last week after being arrested June 18 for draft evasion and the sentence was announced today. An appeal is scheduled to be heard in Moscow on Friday at which time it is expected to be announced how the sentence is to be served–whether in a laborcamp or a prison.

At a press conference at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ Religious Action Center here, Rabbi David Saperstein, co-director and counsel of the Center, said this was the first time that “such a broad coalition of organizations joined together to speak out” on a single case.

“I think the reason for that is primarily the sense that there is a desperate situation for Soviet Jews in that if something isn’t done shortly, we really face the danger of the spiritual genocide of millions of Jews in the Soviet Union, “he said.

The coalition which had sent a cable to Soviet leaders before thetrial, also sent telegrams to President Reagan, Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, and Secretary of State George Shultz urging them to intervene on behalf of Yakir. At the press conference, statements were released from the White House and Mondale.


The White House statement was issued by Marsh-all Breger, special assistant to the President for Jewish affairs. Breger noted that he was “concerned” that Yakir’s trial “may really be intended as a warning to refuseniks to stay away from dissidents and foreigners.”

He said “this trial should be seen as part of a Soviet campaign of increased harassment of both foreigners and citizens of the USSR. These additional violations of human rights will not pass un-noticed. You may be assured that the United States government has intervened with the Soviet authorities to permit the prompt emigration of the Yakir family and to acquit Aleksandr of the draft evasion charges against him.

“In the Yakir case, the Soviet authorities have the opportunity to demonstrate in actuality the respect for human rights and due process which they frequently profess. We and others throughout the world will be watching the Soviet decision with concern.”


Mondale said he was joining the coalition “in protesting the Soviet regime’s cruel and inhumane treatment of Aleksandr Yakir. I salute this young and courageous activist who seeks only to exercise the right of emigration, a right that Soviet authorities have denied to thousands of Jews and others.

“I urge the Soviet Union to lift the restrictions imposed on Jews, to end the campaign of harassment, intimidation and government sponsored anti-Semitism under which Jews of the USSR live, and to honor the basic human rights of all of its citizens.”

Aleksandr and his parents, Yevgenny and Rima Yakir, and his grandmother, Clara Yakir, have been seeking to emigrate since October, 1973. Since applying for emigration visas, Yevgenny Yakir, a mechnanical engineer, has had to work at stringing tennis rackets, and Rima Yakir, a computer engineer, has worked as a cleaning woman.

At the press conference, Maryland State Senator, Howard Denis (R. Montgomery), who has known the Yakir family since 1978 and who was in Moscow during the trial, stressed that Aleksandr Yakir, like all refuseniks, has followed Soviet law “meticulously. “He said that Aleksandr had received several exemptions and had been arrested, even though he was above the Soviet maximum age for induction which is 27.

Denis said he believes the arrest is a “major new escalation by the Soviet Union, an attempt to break and scatter the refusenik community once and for all.” He noted that recently the Soviet Union has made it illegal to render assistance to foreigners, although it is unclear what assistance means.

Saperstein, who is also the UAHC’s Washington representative, added that Soviet Jews have been sustained, in addition to their courage, by the enormous support “that they have had from outside the Soviet Union.”

He said the sentencing of Yakir could be the test to sever the link between the refuseniks and people outside the Soviet Union who care about what’s going on. He pointed out that the Yakir family has had a particularly close and warm relationship with people concerned about intemational human rights.

In addition, Denis said that the Yakir family was prominent in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. He said that Aleksandr’s grand-uncle, Yonah Yakir, is considered a here of the revolution and his grandfather, Maurice Yakir, was also honored for fighting for the Bolsheviks. Denis said the Soviet Union may be sending a message that if someone of this family can be put on trial for wanting to emigrate, “no one is safe.”

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