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Congressional Delegation Meets with Soviets on Jewish Rights

May 20, 1988
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Eight members of Congress met with officials at the Soviet Embassy Tuesday to stress that Congress will not allow the issue of Soviet Jewry “to be swept under the rug” at the upcoming summit in Moscow.

“We want to make sure the Soviets understand that human rights and Soviet Jewry should be a component of the summit,” Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who headed the delegation, said after the embassy meeting. “We also want to make sure that our government knows we feel that way.”

The members of Congress were concerned that the Reagan administration, in its efforts to get an arms agreement and improved relations with the Soviets, might not press human rights as hard as it has in the past, a spokesman for Schumer said.

However, both President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz personally assured Jewish leaders recently, including Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, that the cause of Soviet Jewry will be put forth at the summit, which begins May 29.

The congressional delegation urged the Soviets to move toward an “open door” emigration policy and end the official harassment of Jews, according to Schumer’s spokesman.

The delegation stressed that although some well-known refuseniks have been allowed to emigrate, and despite the recent increase in emigration figures, new procedural obstacles have been placed in the way of refuseniks.

They listed four such obstacles. The first is the new first-degree requirement in which the needed invitation from a relative abroad to emigrate must be from a parent, child or sibling.


The second is the “poor relative” requirement, in which potential emigrants must certify that their departure will not cause economic hardship even for distant relatives.

The third obstacle listed by the members of Congress is the extension of refusal to persons with state secrets to their spouses and children.

Finally, the delegation noted that since March, the Soviets have refused visas to families with male children under 17 until they complete their military service. However, persons who leave the military are frequently denied exit visas on the grounds that they possess classified information.

The delegation also raised the issue of increasing Soviet anti-Semitism and particularly the “explosive rise of ultranationalist groups like Pamyat.”

They noted that white demonstrations by Soviet Jews are broken up, demonstrations by Pamyat that attack Jews, “are permitted to flourish,” the spokesman said.

He said the Soviets asked the members of Congress to reveal neither the responses of the embassy officials nor their names.

In addition to Schumer, the delegation included Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), John Miller (R-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Steny Hoyer, Benjamin Cardin and Constance Moreila, all Maryland Democrats.

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