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Tekoah Gives Thant, UN Rights Body, Plea by Russian Jews for Help to Go to Israel

November 12, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israeli Ambassador Yosef Tekoah submitted yesterday to the United Nations–and the world–letters from 18 Jewish families in the Soviet Union pleading with the UN Human Rights Commission to help them to emigrate to Israel. He asked Secretary-General U Thant to use his “good offices” on their behalf and was told that Mr. Thant would do what he could. The letters were signed by 18 heads of families from the Soviet Republic of Georgia. All signed their names and addresses, prompting many observers here to call their act one of great courage.

Mr. Tekoah gave to Mr. Thant two documents which were signed Aug. 6, 1969. One was a letter in Russian submitted to Mr. Tekoah as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN; the other was an appeal from the Jews to the Human Rights Commission. The letters were sent to the Envoy via Mrs. Golda Meir, Israel’s Premier, to whom they were transmitted by the signatories.

Mr. Tekoah also held a press conference to call upon world public opinion to help secure for the Russian Jews their desired freedom. “These documents speak for themselves.” he said.

“We request you to take immediate steps to obtain in the shortest possible time permission for us to leave Israel,” the Russians said, “for the time of fear has passed–the hour of action has come. For if I am not for myself, then who will for me? And if not now, then–when?”


Mr. Tekoah noted that this was the first time that Israel has formally brought the question of Russian Jews to Mr. Thant and to the Human Rights Commission. The latter body is expected to meet in February. He asked them the appeal be accredited as a General Assembly document. He noted that the 18 signatories pointed out that there could have been many more signatures. “Indeed, the questions which they raise, the appeals which they make concern the feelings, the hopes and prayers of a Jewish community three and one-half million strong” the diplomat declared.

Mr. Tekoah said that “the plight of this community is one of the greatest Jewish tragedies since World War Two. Once the heart of Jewish culture and religion in Europe. Soviet Jewry has been doomed to effacement unless there is a fundamental change in their situation.” Today, the envoy said.” we have brought before the world public opinion one of the most moving appeals to the UN and to world conscience ever to have come from the unhappy Jews of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Today, we turn to the Soviet Government in a pleas to allow Soviet Jewry to live and to let them go. This community has survived Tsarist pogroms and oppression; it has survived Babi Yar and Ponary and Rumbuli; it has survived the gas chambers and the concentration camps. Must it now die a spiritual death? Must it be obliterated from the face of the earth?…The eyes of the world are upon the Government of the USSR in the hope that it will show understanding and humanity toward a people that has contributed so greatly to the Soviet Union and yet remained faithful to the age-long dream of Jewish rebirth in the Jewish State.”

In their letter, the 18 Jewish family heads tell how, upon receiving an invitation from a relative in Israel, they obtained the required questionnaires from Soviet authorities. “Each was assured orally that no obstacles would be put in the way of his departure,” they said. They sold property and gave up jobs, but years have passed and they have gotten, despite “hundreds of letters and telegrams” just “one syllable oral refusals.” They said sadly “no one cares about our fate.” In explaining why they wanted to go to Israel, the 18 explained that Jews are pogrom-free, can hold any position they want–” even as high as the post of ministers”–and do not suffer religious discrimination in Russia.

It was their love for Israel, they said, that motivated them to want to leave. “Our prayers are with Israel,” they said. “For it is written, ‘if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.” They recited how the first Jewish State, destroyed by the Romans, died. “But the nation remained,” living in “alien lands.” They relate how the Jews endured the worst possible treatment from all hands down through the centuries, refusing to convert, suffering and dying instead.


But “Israel has risen from the ashes; we have not forgotten Jerusalem, and it needs our hands,” the 18 said. “They say there is a total of 12 million Jews in the world. But he errs who believes there are only 12 million of us. For with those who pray for Israel are hundreds of millions who did not live to this day, who were tortured to death, who are no longer here. They march shoulder to shoulder with us, unconquered and immortal, those who handed down to us the traditions of struggle and faith. This is why we want to go to Israel.”

The petitioners said: “History has entrusted the UN with a great mission–to think about people and help them. Therefore, we demand that the UN Human Rights Commission do everything it can to obtain from the Soviet Government in the shortest possible time permission for us to leave. It is incomprehensible that in the 20th Century people can be prohibited from living where they wish to live. We will wait months and years, we will wait all our lives, if necessary, but we will not renounce our faith or our hopes. We believe our prayers have reached God. We know our appeals will reach people. For we are asking little–let us go to the land of our forefathers.” Thirteen of the signatories were from the town of Kutaisi, and the rest were from Poti and Tiflis.

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