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Mann: Soviet Jews Being ‘held Hostage’ Pending Improvement of Relations Between the U.s., USSR

November 19, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jews in the Soviet Union, whose situation can be called “drastic”, are “being held hostage” pending an improvement of the “cool” relations between the U.S. and the USSR, Theodore Mann, chairman of the National Conference for Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) said yesterday.

Mann, at a luncheon with reporters at the NCSJ office here, said he expected the condition of Soviet Jews, which was described as in an “emergency” situation, would get worse in the next few months before it, hopefully, improved in 1982. He said an improvement is expected to come about as a result of the renewal of U.S.-Soviet trade relations.

Mann stressed that American foreign policy can not be based on its effect on Soviet Jewry. But he said President Reagan has assured him that the situation of Soviet Jews will be discussed when the U.S. and the Soviet Union begin trade talks, probably next year.

At the same time, Jerry Goodman, the NCSJ’s executive director, stressed that the fate of Soviet Jewry should not have to be tied to U.S.-Soviet relations, noting that it has not always been so.

Mann said there has been a “desensitivation” on the plight of Soviet Jewry in the government, the media and the public. He said this happened even though the situation has changed drastically for the worse in the last few months. He noted that earlier, the problem concerned mainly a few people who were being persecuted for trying to emigrate while now it includes all of Soviet Jewry.


Goodman noted that there has been almost a 90 percent decrease in emigration since 1979 when 51,320 Jews left the Soviet Union. In 1980, the figure was 21,471. Last month, only 368 Jews left the USSR. Goodman called this an “apparent end of emigration, at least for the time being.”

He said that there can no longer even be talk of family reunifications since the Soviets have instituted a policy where only first degree relatives in Israel could send affidavits needed for Soviet Jews to emigrate. First degree relatives are now defined as parents, brothers or sisters. Children and grandparents are ruled out, he said. He said that since the major decline in emigration visa approvals, many Jews who would like to emigrate are now afraid even to apply for visas.

At the same time, Goodman said there is an assault on Jewish identification in the Soviet Union with the home study groups being broken up, participants jailed and all Judaic books are being confiscated. He said that Soviet Jews who study Jewish culture usually decide to emigrate because they realize there is no future for Jewish life in the Soviet Union.

“We don’t know for a fact whether this evidences a Soviet decision to break the back of the Soviet Jewry movement, just as five, six years ago it did indeed break the back …”, Mann said, “or whether they are simply reacting to American foreign policy and the deplorable state of relations between the U.S. and the USSR at this moment and have made Jews hostages to their goal.”

Mann was quick to point out that he was not criticizing President Reagan personally, noting that the President has assured him of his support for Soviet Jewry. Goodman said that Secretary of State Alexander Haig told him he took up the issue of Soviet Jews during his first meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.

Goodman also said he saw a hopeful sign in the appointment of Elliott Abrams as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and the renewed commitment by the Administration in support of human rights. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday voted 10-0 to recommend that the Senate approve the nomination of Abrams.

Goodman also noted that Max Kampelman is continuing as U.S. co-chairman at the Madrid Conference on the Helsinki accords and was saying the same things he said when he served in that capacity under President Carter.

Mann ruled out support by American Jewry to Soviet Jews who come to the U.S. instead of going to Israel as having any effect on the Soviet decision to cut emigration.

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