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Israeli and Soviet Diplomats Clash over Treatment of Jews in Russia

July 31, 1964
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Documented charges by an Israeli diplomat of Soviet mistreatment of Russian Jewry, presented at the current meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council here today, provoked an angry reply by the Soviet representative at the Council who asserted that Jews in the Soviet Union were on an equal footing with all other Soviet citizens.

A. Bendryshev, the Soviet representative, took the floor several times during the presentation by Moshe Bartur, Israel’s permanent delegate at Geneva. Delegates from several western countries, including the United States, also joined in the discussion, expressing their surprise that the conditions described by Mr. Bartur still existed 15 years after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Soviet delegate’s first intervention came when Mr. Bartur began quoting from anti-Semitic books recently published in the Soviet Union. The Soviet delegate interrupted on a point of order, contending that the speaker was required to adhere to the item under discussion–the report of the Human Rights Commission.

Sir Ronald Walker of Australia, ECOSOC president, gave the floor to the Israeli delegate who refrained from further quotations and concluded his statement with an urgent appeal to ECOSOC to take constructive and urgent action to remedy “an insufferable situation” which he said was in contradiction to the principles of human rights.

The Soviet delegate then arose again to make a violent statement in which he insisted that Jews were treated like all other Soviet citizens. He also declared there were now in Russia 97 synagogues and that all Jews who had left Russia for Israel now wished to return while Israelis visiting Russia would like to remain.


The delegates of France, Britain, the United States, Argentina, Luxembourg and Ecuador then spoke in criticism of the Soviet Union for its continued anti-Jewish activities.

The Soviet delegate again took the floor and asserted that “Judaism Without Embellishment,” the virulently anti-Semitic book published under the auspices of the Ukrainian Academy of Science–to which Mr. Bartur had referred in his statement had been withdrawn from circulation. The Soviet delegate declared that there did not now exist nor would there ever exist discrimination in Soviet Russia.

The Israeli representative took the floor again at the end of the session to reply. He said that he regretted that he was morally bound to bring such facts to the meeting but that there was no point in hiding “these facts of life,” especially where human beings and human rights were concerned.

He asserted that anti-Semitism existed in other countries besides Russia, but that nowhere else were such anti-Semitic publications as those he had cited issued under auspices of Governments or of State Publishing Houses or of national academies.


Mr. Bartur added that he would not discuss the Soviet delegate’s assertion that there were presently 97 synagogues in the Soviet Union. However, he said, he wanted to remind ECOSOC that a 1956 report of the United Nations had stated that there were 450 synagogues then in the Soviet Union and that, judging from the Soviet delegate’s statement today, one had to deduce that some 350 synagogues had been since shut down.

The Israeli envoy said that in Russia, a community of about 3,000,000 Jews was being dispossessed of its religious, cultural and linguistic heritage, that opportunity and facilities for Jewish education were being denied and that ties and communication with Jewish communities in Israel and elsewhere were being prevented.

He made it clear that while it was true that there was no persecution of Soviet Jewry physically, he wanted to pose the question as to whether “the campaign of artificial assimilation enforced by the strong apparatus of a powerful state was not almost as grave a phenomenon.” He then dealt with arguments that criticism against the Soviet Union automatically stemmed from sentiments of hostility against a particular ideology, He stressed the fact that Communist sources and publications, certainly not suspect of an anti-Soviet bias, were becoming increasingly aware of the problem of anti-Semitism in Russia and voicing strong criticism of it.


He also noted that while the virulently anti-Semitic book, “Judaism Without Embellishment,” published by the Academy of Science of “a certain Republic,” was allegedly withdrawn after worldwide protests, two similar books were published and distributed recently by the State Publishing House for Political Literature in Moscow.

In commenting on these “monstrous examples” of anti-Semitic propaganda, from which he quoted a number of pages, Ambassador Bartur said that “if public opinion is thus guided by State Publishing Houses and Academies of Science, there is indeed every reason for urgent alarm.”

He concluded by stressing the “acute human problem” of reunion of war-separated Jewish families and made a strong appeal to the “national authorities most directly concerned” as well as to the international community to “take constructive and urgent action to remedy an insufferable situation for millions of people gravely affected in their basic human, religious and cultural rights.” He added that “the situation is, we are convinced, flagrantly incompatible with the spirit of our time and with the convictions and desires of the family of nations.”

Another Jewish spokesman, Dr. Maurice L. Perlzweig of the World Jewish Congress, told the meeting that his organization “views with anxious disquiet the failure of the United Nations so far to complete even the draft of a text of a declaration on the eradication of religious intolerance.”

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