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Soviet Foreign Minister Tells Rabbi the Kremlin is Waiting for a Gesture

March 18, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Ensuring Israel’s security is “an integral part” of Soviet policy, Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh told an Israeli rabbi visiting Moscow last week.

He also said he thinks Israel “should be rewarded and shown recognition” for the restraint it showed by not retaliating for Iraqi missile attacks during the Persian Gulf war.

The Soviet diplomat made those remarks at a meeting with the chief rabbi of Rehovot, Simcha Kook, according to New York City Councilman Noach Dear, who said he arranged the meeting and was present at it.

Dear told Israeli officials Sunday that Bessmertnykh said the Soviet Union would restore full diplomatic relations with Israel when Israel offered a demonstrative gesture signaling its commitment to a comprehensive peace in the region.

But according to the Brooklyn Democrat, Moscow is not demanding that Israel agree to an international conference.

The gesture he said Moscow is “carefully watching and waiting for” is “something less than that.”

Bessmertnykh, who formerly served as Soviet ambassador to Washington, said he believes it is “easier” for Israel to offer such a gesture in the postwar situation, Dear said.

When Kook spoke of the “miracle of the Scuds” that caused virtually no casualties and relatively little damage to Israel, Bessmertnykh is said to have remarked that “another miracle” was Israel’s forbearance.

Dear said the session with Besmmertnykh lasted two hours and that Rabbi Yitzhak Rosenberg, national director of synagogue programming for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, was also present.


According to Dear, Bessmertnykh “had tears in his eyes” and choked with emotion as Rabbi Kook expounded on the historical and metaphysical bonds between the people of Israel and its land.

Kook explained that according to Jewish tradition, the rivalry between Cain and Abel, between Isaac and Ishmael, was over control of “Eretz Yisrael,” the Land of Israel.

He added that Jews had never for one day ceased living in Jerusalem, even during the darkest periods of the Exile.

The Soviet diplomat replied, “I never knew that.”

Dear said the emotional high came when Kook told his host that Jews mention “the rebuilding of Zion” every time they say grace after meals, that a Jewish bride and groom stand under the nuptial canopy facing Jerusalem and that the corpse of a Jew is laid out with his feet facing the holy city.

According to Dear, Bessmertnykh’s reply astonished his guests. He is reported to have said that he now understood why a friend of his years ago had thrown away his whole life and career in order to settle in Israel, a land he had never visited.

“When I asked him why, he simply said, ‘That is my homeland,’ “the Soviet foreign minister reportedly said.

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