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Special Interview Mfn to the USSR on a Trial Basis

July 17, 1979
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Howard Squadron, president of the American Jewish Congress, believes that the U.S. should agree to grant most-favored-nation trade status to the Soviet Union for a trial period of one year to see if the Soviets live up to their pledges on Jewish emigration. Squadron, who attended the 15th annual American-Israel Dialogue in Jerusalem, sponsored by the AJCongress, which ended last Friday, expressed his views on this and other major issues in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He stressed that the one-year MFN grant would not be extended automatically but only after Washington reviewed the situation. In addition, he insisted that the trial period be undertaken only when and if the Soviets tarry out their undertaking to Australian trade union leader Bob Hawke to release 12 Jewish activists currently imprisoned in the USSR.

The promise to Hawke, Squadron said, must be seen as a test of Moscow’s good faith. Hawke was given the commitment last spring by a member of the Soviet Politburo. Such persons do not talk out of turn or unadvisedly, Squadron said. Therefore, failure to carry out the commitment would be a breach of pledge.

He said that Rep. Charles Vanik (D.Ohio) was “more receptive” to the one-year trial idea than Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D. Wash.), coauthor of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking U.S. Soviet trade with Soviet emigration practices. Jackson’s position must be seen within the framework of his across-the-board suspicion of the Soviets and opposition to the SALT II Treaty, Squadron said. “It is not as simple for us (American Jewish leaders) as it is for Jackson,” he observed. For the Jews the major consideration is to keep up the flow of their coreligionists coming out of the Soviet Union, he said.


On a related issue, that of “neshira” (dropouts), Squadron said his opinion was that HIAS and the Joint Distribution Committee should perhaps be asked to decide for themselves on their future policy towards Jewish emigrants of different categories.

He said the AJCongress as a body had not yet discussed Premier Menachem Begin’s “compromise proposal” whereby the American Jewish leadership would persuade HIAS and the JDC to offer old only to those would-be “noshrim” who have close relatives already In the U.S. Those without such relatives would be required to go to Israel with Jewish Agency old or to proceed to a Western country on their own.

Squadron cautioned that “all the limitation ideas that have been suggested are going to have a rough passage” through American Jewish policymaking forums. His feeling was that there is unanimity within the U.S. organized Jewish leadership that “it would be better if they (the noshrim) went to Israel … and it would be marvelous if the Russians would agree to let them fly to Israel directly. But the view is that if people want to go somewhere else they must be permitted to do so.”

Phil Baum, a close aide to Squadron and a man intimately familiar with Soviet-Jewish affairs said he had noted of late a discernible shift in sentiment among local Jewish Federations caused by the larger numbers of Soviet Immigrants who had been arriving. Squadron agreed that “there is more debate now” on the “neshira” issue than in the past. But both men felt that the “bottom line” at present within organized U.S. Jewry was still against restrictive limitations to be imposed at Vienna.


On another controversial issue currently preoccupying leaders in Israel and the U.S., settlements on the West Bank, Squadron warned against American Jews “getting into a dispute of this kind.” A debate within U.S. Jewry gives the Washington Administration the impression that the community has no position and therefore need not be taken into account in the whole process of the autonomy negotiation.

Therefore, he observed, the U.S. Jewish leadership should go “public” only an issues on which there is unanimity–such as the recent rebuttal by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations of the Administration’s charge that the West Bank settlements are “illegal.”

At the same time, however, Squadron said the Jewish organizations had a duty to convey to the Israeli government the fact of the situation inside America, namely, that “public opinion regarding Israel is not good….Congress is beginning to respond unfavorably to the apparent appropriation of private lands.” The Jewish groups could offer useful advice on how to present the Israel government’s position in the most favorable way, Squadron said.

He maintained that Israel’s bargaining position in the autonomy talks was good, because it was the only participating party, in the absence of Jordan and the Palestinians, with a direct interest in the land in question. It could therefore afford to adopt tactics that would secure for it a better public opinion response in the U.S. Squadron said. He stressed that he was not saying that U.S. public opinion should mold Israeli policy, but it should be one of the policy considerations.


He contended that Jewish political influence continued to be strong and growing in the U.S. American Jews are “educated, affluent, intense, cohesive and articulate,” Squadron observed, and, “perhaps most important, we will fight for Israel’s security without regard to how that struggle might affect our own status as a minority in America.” He cautioned, however, that “we cannot win every battle.” He cited the Saudi arms deal as an example of a lost fight. “We win some and we lose some. But whatever the outcome we are not afraid to take on the Administration when it is Israel’s security that is at stake,” Squadron said.

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