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Special to the JTA Leading Sovietologists Differ on Strategy for Aiding Soviet Jews

November 21, 1978
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Speaking at the third annual Leadership Assembly of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry (GNYCSJ) yesterday, two leading Jewish Sovietologists differed on the most effective strategy for aiding Soviet Jews. The speakers spoke on their own behalf, and were met with much opposition from members of the audience.

Marshall Goldman, associate director of the Russian Studies Center at Harvard, urged “flexibility” in dealings with the Soviets which are linked to the goal of increasing Jewish emigration from the USSR. Specifically, Goldman argued that when Moscow liberalizes its policy on Jewish emigration, as is presently the case, the U.S. should “reward” such a tendency by offering the USSR modest trade concessions.

He added that if significantly greater numbers of Soviet Jews are permitted to leave, President Carter should consider offering the Soviet Union the most favored nation trade status currently denied it under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. In general, Goldman contended, “Good Soviet-American relations are better for the Jews than bad, for trade and other contacts give the U.S. leverage on Soviet policy vis-a-vis Jewish emigration.”

Echoing Goldman’s call for flexibility, Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D.NY), a member of the House International Affairs Committee, noted that if the upward trend in Soviet Jewish emigration continues, “some positive response may be warranted.” While adding that “I wouldn’t favor most favored nation trade status,” Rosenthal observed that “some carrot and-stick approach may be useful” when dealing with the Soviets. One possibility, he noted, was to amend the Stevenson Amendment, which limits the USSR to $300 million in commodity credits.


However, Richard Pipes, a professor of Russian history at Harvard, urged activists on behalf of Soviet Jews to focus their efforts more on obtaining greater religious and cultural rights for Jews who remain in the USSR. While noting that anti-Semitism is likely to remain a unifying force among the Soviet masses, and thus painting a bleak picture of Soviet Jewish prospects, Pipes insisted that it will be “most difficult to get all the Jews, or even a majority, out” in the years ahead.

Observing that the Jews are the only national minority in the Soviet Union without some national organization — a right guaranteed by both the Soviet Constitution and several international treaties which the USSR has signed — Pipes encouraged the fostering of a national Jewish identity, primarily through the resurgence of Yiddish schools, as well as a Yiddish press and theater.

Against the feelings of the majority of the participants, he also advocated Soviet Jewish ties with the Soviet dissident movement, both because a regime headed by today’s dissidents may one rule the USSR and because Jews are anyway already active in the dissident movement.

Goldman and Pipes also disagreed on an effective strategy for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. While Goldman advocated a careful monitoring of Soviet treatment of Jews and Israeli athletes before and during the Games, Pipes, speaking to this writer, called for a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games.

The Leadership Assembly’s opening program Sat- urday evening featured the world premier of “August 12, 1952: The Night of the Murdered Poets,” composed by Morris Moshe Cotel and narrated by Academy Award winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. Cotel’s intense and moving 15-minute composition, which was inspired by the 1970 ” Brother Jewsl” appeal of 80 Moscow Jewish activists, juxtaposed readings from works by five Soviet Jewish poets murdered by Stalin 26 years ago with variations on the traditional melody of the “Shema.”

Following the performance of “August 12, 1952,” the GNYCSJ presented its fifth Soviet Jewry Freedom Award to New York State Attorney General-elect Robert Abrams, the Conference’s chairman from 1977 to 1978. Also honored was Chaim Ber, the outgoing Israeli Counsel on Soviet Affairs.

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