The arrest of Soviet Jewish refusnik Anatoly Sharansky on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency indicates a Soviet move to discredit the entire human rights movement in the USSR by linking it to the activities of Jews, who have been vilified in a recent government propaganda campaign, a former refusnik leader said yesterday.
Speaking at a press conference in the Jewish Federation building, Mikhail Steiglitz said that the charges against Sharansky are the first charges of treason leveled at an individual since the death of Stalin in 1953 and may spark mass trials and executions of Jews similar to those of the early 1950s.
Steiglitz is currently touring American cities to garner support for Sharansky with his sister Avital, who was expelled from the Soviet Union the day after she married Sharansky. Following the press conference, they addressed the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) of the Jewish United Fund, where they were introduced by Raymond Epstein, PAC chairman. Later they met with the Acting Mayor of Chicago, Michael A. Bilandic.
At the press conference, Steiglitz said the Soviets seek to establish a “false linkage between alleged Jewish spies and the human rights movement, because they cannot safely attack human rights leaders like Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov, who have too much credibility among the Russian people.”
The press conference was moderated by Joel J. Sprayregen, chairman of the PAC’s subcommittee on Soviet Jewry and vice-chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
FEARS MASS TRIALS, BLOODSHED
Steiglitz, who resettled in Israel in 1973, called it “very urgent” that massive support for Sharansky be mobilized before his trial. He said he fears a conviction against Sharansky would lead to mass trials and bloodshed because “it is most dangerous for the Soviet government to change its mind once it begins a course of action.
“Therefore there is great danger to Vladimir Slepak. Prof. Alexander Lerner, and the thousands of other Soviet Jews who have been refused the right to emigrate, although that right is expressly granted in Soviet law and the Helsinki accord.” Steiglitz said.
The reports from the USSR indicate that the current anti-Semitic campaign “has put every Jew in the USSR in danger,” Steiglitz said. He cited numerous instances of Jewish youngsters being beaten by their schoolmates because of the propaganda campaign and a fear among Jewish adults about leaving their homes. “It is an atmosphere of pogrom.” Steiglitz said. He praised President Carter’s stand for human rights in the USSR and Congressional declarations against the anti-Semitic campaign of the Soviet Union.
Soviet Jews recognize that official Soviet reaction to Carter’s position may generate some short-term dangers, he said. However, he added they fully expect the President’s concern to achieve good long-term results. Mrs. Sharansky, who lives in Israel and helps Soviet migrants adapt to Israeli life, said she had been unable to contact her husband since his arrest on March 15. Sharansky is being held by the KGB in Moscow’s Lefortevo prison.
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.