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Special to the JTA a Glasnost Invitation

September 10, 1987
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Australian Soviet Jewry activist Isi Leibler has accepted an official invitation to spend Rosh Hashanah in Moscow as a guest of the capital’s Jewish community center. The invitation has aroused interest in international Soviet Jewry circles because it is understood to be the first of its kind since the proclamation of the glasnost era by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Although the Soviets, even pre-glasnost, had occasionally invited rabbis as their official guests, Leibler is believed to be the first non-rabbinical leader involved in international Jewish affairs to receive a formal invitation in the Gorbachev era.

Where other Jewish leaders have visited the Soviet Union in recent years it has usually been at their request or by arrangement — not as a result of an official invitation.

The Moscow community center houses the Moscow Synagogue under the direction of Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich and is a government-sponsored body associated with the Ministry of Cults and the Council of Religions of the USSR. The Liebler invitation therefore would have been sanctioned at a senior government level.

Liebler’s invitation came from Boris Gramm, president of the community center. Together with Shayevich, Gramm was in Budapest last May at the same time as the historic conference of the World Jewish Congress where he met Leibler, president of the WJC’s Asia-Pacific Region.

Leibler is an executive member of the International Council of the World Conference on Soviet Jewry (known as the Presidium). With an involvement which dates back to the early 1960’s, he is recognized as one of the foundation members of the international Soviet Jewry movement.

According to international analysts, the invitation should be seen as a hopeful indicator of a more positive outlook by the pro-glasnost elements in the Soviet leadership. It is also being linked to the visit to the Soviet Union in December by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

The Prime Ministerial visit by Hawke was originally scheduled for October but was postponed because of the prospects of a superpower summit. Human rights and Soviet Jewry, especially in the light of the visit to Australia earlier this year by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, are expected to be on the agenda.

Analysts believe that the Soviets expect Leibler to be in a good position to convey something of Hawke’s thinking on these issues as well as providing insights into recent international developments which may affect attitudes to the Soviet Union on human rights issues.

Although he emphasized that he had no expectations that his talks with Soviet officials would lead to any significant policy changes or breakthroughs for Soviet Jewry, Leibler said his invitation in itself was a hopeful sign that glasnost may offer greater opportunities to conduct a real dialogue with the Soviet leadership.

He said he was completely surprised by the invitation “but I am both excited and moved at the prospect of being in Moscow to celebrate the new year with Soviet Jews.”

This will be Leibler’s fourth visit to the Soviet Union but his first since 1980. Despite repeated efforts he was unable to obtain a visa until 1986. At the last minute, however, that visa was revoked without explanation.

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