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Soviet Bloc Unrest Seen Inimical to Easement of Soviet Jews’ Plight

April 8, 1968
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A symposium sponsored by the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry was told here today that the political unrest in the Soviet bloc would probably harden Soviet resistance to demands for amelioration of the suppression of Russian Jewish cultural and religious like. The symposium opened a two-day biennial meeting of the Conference. The symposium was preceded by a memorial meeting for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the slain Negro civil rights leader. Some 300 leaders, representing 25 major American Jewish organizations, are attending the biennial.

The symposium was addressed by Prof. Erich Goldhagen, director of the Institute of East European Jewry at Brandeis University; Maurice Freidberg, director of the Russian Research Center at Indiana University; and Abraham Brumberg, editor of "Problems of Communism."

Prof. Goldhagen said that "the Soviets fear that the disruptive forces coursing through Eastern Europe might penetrate into their domain." This climate of political vigilance and anxiety, he said. "is inhospitable to the demands that Jewish cultural institutions be reconstructed" because "in the eyes of the Soviet leaders, a revival of Jewish culture would be tantamount to opening a window to the West, because such a culture would, of necessity be linked, at least is spirit, to the Jewish communities abroad." Prof. Goldhagen added that "the more insecure the Soviet Government feels itself and the more fearful it is of Western influence, the greater its suspicion of the Jews…and the greater its reluctance to permit recreation of the institutions that would foster the ethos of Jewish culture."

Mr. Freidberg noted that "a significant segment of the Soviet Union’s younger intellectuals continues the noble traditions of the old Russian lntelligencia…the traditions of exposing hypocrisy, of defending the underdog, of refusing to be silent in the face of injustice. Their preoccupation with the plight of Russian Jews may have no immediate practical effects on the Soviet establishment’s policies," he declared. He added that nevertheless, "it reminds the Soviet Jews themselves that not all of their neighbors are either hostile or indifferent to their fate…"

Mr. Brumberg said it would be a mistake to see the ferment in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe as a reaction to mistreatment of the Jews. "What we are seeing is, basically, a power struggle with Jews cast in the traditional role of scapegoats." In a way, he said, "a peculiar brand of fascism has now joined forces with a peculiar brand of communism," but, he asserted, it will not prevail. Revulsion against racism and anti-Semitism is the other side of the coin of 20th century nationalism and this revolution is as widespread among the best elements in non-communist as in communistic societies — and indeed among non-communists and those communists that wish to redeem what they consider the ideals of socialism."

Dr. William Wexler, president of B’nai B’rith and chairman of the meeting, said that "if Soviet leaders should take a new hard look at where their true self interest in the Middle East lies, they could well decide that a more balanced policy is in order and that Russian interest does not require that they be hostile to the Israelis abroad and the Jews at home."

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