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Russia’s chief Chabad rabbi castigated the United States for its refusal to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

In an interview published Wednesday in a Russian newspaper, Rabbi Berel Lazar said the only reasoning behind retaining the amendment was political and that it’s usefulness had long ago passed. The Cold War-era measure places restrictions on countries that do not allow their citizens to freely emigrate. Enacted 33 years ago, it was targeted at alleviating the constraints on Jewish intellectuals. Jackson-Vanik, named for the two major co-sponsors in the U.S. Congress, remains in place for Russia and several other former Soviet countries, preventing their admittance to organizations such as the World Trade Organization. Lazar said Chabad representatives have brought up the issue with President Bush and the U.S. State Department. Jews have been able “to emigrate and to freely travel” for a long time, Lazar told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, while many have returned to Russia.

“No one has forced them to return,” he said. “It was their free choice.” Lazar said the amendment is now harming the Jewish people because their struggle for human rights has been tied to economic policy. “The repeal of the amendment is now tied to things like American chicken imports to Russia,” Lazar said. “People and their spiritual freedom have been placed on the same plane with chicken.”

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