Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Shcharansky Calls on American Jewry to Continue Its Public Campaign on Behalf of Soviet Jewry

May 13, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

American Jewish leaders warmly and enthusiastically welcomed Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky on Monday, greeting him with standing ovations and the song “Am Yisrael Chai.”

Addressing an overflow meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, attended by more than 200 leaders of Jewish organizations and activists on behalf of Soviet Jews, Shcharansky called on American Jewry to continue its public, open campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

“It is important that the Soviets will have no illusions that we will ever sacrifice the interests of our brothers in Russia,” the 38-year-old Shcharansky, who arrived from Israel last Thursday for his first U.S. visit, declared.


In contrast with some prominent American Jewish leaders, who advocate “quiet diplomacy” to assist Soviet Jewry, Shcharansky said that “for us Jews there is no choice” but to undertake an open campaign and maintain “open pressure” on behalf of Soviet Jews.

He said that while President Reagan, with whom he is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Washington, can use “quiet diplomacy,” American Jews should not take this approach.

In fact, Shcharansky said, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev arrives in Washington for talks, at least 400,000 Americans should come to Washington to remind the Kremlin that 400,000 Soviet Jews who have applied to leave the Soviet Union have been denied exit visas.

Shcharansky, who was imprisoned for nine years in the Soviet before he was allowed to reunite with his wife Avital in Israel last February, said the pressure on the Soviet Union must be constant if the struggle for Soviet Jews is to succeed.


He praised the efforts of American Jews on behalf of Soviet Jews. “The solidarity of American Jewry with Soviet Jewry is the brightest example that we Jews all over the world are one people, united over the State of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews could not have left Russia without the support of American Jews. Without your solidarity and support we could never have survived,” Shcharansky told the Jewish leaders.

Shcharansky said that the Soviets will not open the gates to the 400,000 Jews who want to leave unless it is clear to them that they are going “to lose more” by keeping the Jews than letting them leave. Therefore, Shcharansky said, the Jackson/Vanik Amendment, tying U.S. economic concessions to the Soviet Union with Jewish emigration, should not be canceled and the pressure on the Soviets by Congress and the Administration must be continued.

Asked about the theory that the Soviets closed their gates to Jewish emigration because many Jews who leave the Soviet Union go to America instead of Israel, Shcharansky said: “It is naive to think that they stopped Jewish emigration because Jews go to America.” He added, “I, of course, want all Jews to go to Israel, including American Jews…”

Later on Monday, Shcharansky visited Yeshiva University and accepted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for Avital, who is pregnant and unable to travel with him. In 1984, Avital accepted the same honorary degree in Yeshiva University on behalf of her husband, who was then in a Soviet prison.

Sunday night, after addressing more than 300,000 people at the 15th annual Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry in Manhattan, Shcharansky was a guest of honor at a reception at Gracie Mansion given by New York Mayor Edward Koch.

Recommended from JTA