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Soviet Jewry Advocates Support Bush on Granting New Status for Russia

June 22, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

At the White House dinner held for Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday, Pamela Cohen was the sole representative of a human rights group or Jewish organization on a guest list made up largely of business executives.

But the national president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews said she did not feel out of place among the corporate presidents pushing for increased U.S. trade with the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Like the business leaders, advocates for Soviet Jewry applaud the administration for granting most favored nation trading status to Russia. And the Jewish community is part of a broad coalition working for the aid package for which Yeltsin appealed to Congress.

At the same time, said Cohen, both the Jewish and business communities remain concerned about human rights in Russia and the other republics.

“Every single businessman I spoke to understands that human rights and the rule of law go hand in hand,” said Cohen.

Soviet Jewry advocates fear that Jewish emigration could stop suddenly if the right to leave is not codified into law. This fear is paralleled by that of American business executives who worry that they will be unable to collect from their investments unless a legal structure for capitalism is set up.

“There has been a demise of communism, a change of power. But the totalitarian system still exists. This is a revolution in progress, not a revolution that has been successful or completed,” said Cohen.


Jewish groups believe that massive aid to Russia now is an excellent investment, to counteract potential anarchy.

“We believe economic stability is the key to providing a stable future for the Jewish community that remains there,” said Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Both Wenick’s and Cohen’s groups voiced approval of President Bush’s decision to grant most favored nation status to Russia, which will greatly improve Russia’s ability to trade with the United States.

This status could only be granted after Bush certified that Russia had provided for free emigration, thus waiving the restrictions of the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which ties trade with what was the Soviet Union to a free emigration policy.

But both Soviet Jewry groups remain opposed to requests to repeal Jackson-Vanik altogether, or grant a multi-year waiver.

“For the time being, since there continues to be some problems with emigration, and the legal and bureaucratic systems have not totally reformed, it’s best to leave the situation where it is,” said Wenick.

Prior to Yeltsin’s arrival in Washington, Wenick, along with the National Conference Chairman Shoshana Cardin, met with senior Russian Embassy officials in Washington.

They discussed the issues on the Jewish agenda, in particular the need for continued reform and the need to address intolerance and anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union.

“I was a little disappointed in (Yeltsin’s) remarks in Congress, which were very specific in committing to continue reforming, but there wasn’t a mention of the questions of intolerance, including anti-Semitism,” said Wenick.

The threat the present situation poses to both business and human-rights interest is epitomized, according to the Union of Councils, by the case of Mark Glizer.

Glizer, who is Jewish, was sentenced to five years of hard labor on June 5 for the “economic crime” of “speculation.”

The prosecution charged that Glizer had assisted in helping a friend sell a car.

In part, the prosecution reflected the old, anti-capitalist thinking of the communist regime, said Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils.

He pointed out that most of the judicial system of the Soviet Union remains intact in present Russia.

Naftalin said he believes anti-Semitism did play some role in the case.

“In selecting people to prosecute, all too often they select Jews,” he said.

The Union of Councils is assisting with an appeal of the case.

Cohen said this case highlights the need to continue paying attention to the situation in the former Soviet Union.

“The tragedy is the Russian liberals in government recognize that the questions of democracy are much more questionable, are much less clear, are of greater concern than does the American public, and especially the American Jewish public. (The Russians) are quick to say be active, be vigilant,” she said.

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