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Soviet Jewry Expert Says There is a Need to Get the Soviet Jewry Cause ‘back on the Track’

March 14, 1983
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William Korey, B’nai B’rith International’s director of international policy research, hopes that the Third International Conference on Soviet Jewry which opens in Jerusalem Tuesday will “reinvigorate” the Soviet Jewry movement.

In recent years there has been a “diminution of activities” because of “other priorities” and there is a need to get the Soviet Jewry cause “back on the track,” he said in an interview in his office at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars where is a guest scholar for the first quarter of the year.

“World Jewry can play a terribly important role in pricking the conscience of the world,” Korey stressed. He noted that a month after the First International Conference in Brussels in February, 1971, the Soviet Union “opened the doors of the cage” and some 13,000 Jews emigrated by the end of the year. The emigration figures rose to an all time high of 51,320 in 1979 before it plummeted to the low of 2,670 emigrants last year.

Hopefully, the Jerusalem conference “will once again move the conscience of the world, ” Korey said. “The Jewish community must be more aware, so must the non-Jewish community, and governments must be sensitized.”


Korey, like most involved in the Soviet Jewry movement, believes that the crackdown on emigration and present hazardous condition of Jews in the USSR is a result of the cool relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. But he stressed that as things get better and the two nations begin to work out agreements the cause of Soviet Jewry must be continuously raised by the U.S. He said the Reagan Administration has been doing this in its meetings with Soviet officials.

At the same time, Korey, a leading expert on Soviet Jewry and the author of “The Soviet Cage: Anti-Semitism in Russia, ” is concerned about the increasing official anti-Semitism in the USSR. In an article in the current winter issue of Present Tense, he describes how the Soviet Union is trying to expunge anti-Semitism from its histories of Nazism. The anti-Semitic campaign is described by him in a recent issue of Moment, particularly that conducted in the military.

“The military has the most concentrated indoctrination program of all institutions in Soviet life, “he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He said since 1977 top priority has been given to an attack on Zionism which is a “mask for vitriolic anti-Semitism.”

He called this especially “terribly disturbing” since the Soviet government considers the armed forces a crucial area of educating the Soviet public. Every male Soviet citizen must serve in the army

Although Korey will not be in Jerusalem for the international conference he has provided material to used there. He must remain in Washington where he will complete his activities as a Wilson scholar March 25. While here he has been studying the Helsinki accords.

Noting that the Madrid conference to review the Helsinki accords is how going on, Korey said that Soviet Jewish activists have stressed to visiting Americans that it has been very helpful to their morale and spirit when Soviet Jewry and other human right issues are raised by the West, Korey said that it also helps “focus world attention” on the issue and “signals” the Soviets that they will have to make accommodations in human rights. He noted that Yosef Mendelevitch and others have been released from prison and allowed to emigrate after earlier sessions at Madrid.

The Madrid conference began on September 9, 1980 and with several adjournments and rescheduling is the “oldest established floating talk fest in the Western world.” Korey said. He believes that the current session will adjourn March 25 and decide to meet again at a later date.

But Korey stressed that if the Soviets expect the West to agree to some of its goals at Madrid, principally a confidence-building conference followed by a disarmament conference, it must show significant progress in human rights and perhaps some dramatic gesture.

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