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Soviet Jews: Glasnost's Victims

By Allan S. Galper

"BROTHERS! Let us fight together against our enemy! Who is this troublemaker? He fools around all people! He uses Christian children's blood for Matzoh. Do you know him? This is a Jew!"

No, this is not a product of the Crusades of the Middle Ages, nor is it from a dust-covered file of the 1940's. This is what's happening today. These words graced a poster plastered around Moscow, and were printed in a Russian newspaper. This is anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

Only a few years ago, such a scathing attack on Jews could never have appeared in a Russian newspaper independent of the government-controlled anti-Jewish campaign. Ironically, it is the freedoms of glasnost, Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of openness, that allows popular hatred of Russian Jews to be aired.

This new freedom has led to the growing popularity of Pamyat, a Russian nationalist organization that preaches Slavic chauvinism and virulent anti-Semitism.

Founded in 1980, Pamyat (meaning "memory") was originally connected to the USSR Ministry of Aviation Industry, but is now independent of the government. The group's grassroots agitation against Jews is replacing state-run actions of the same kind.

Pamyat's political platform blames all of Russia's problems on the nation's 1.8 million Jews. In its January, 1989, "Manifesto of the National-Patriotic Front Pamyat", Russia is described as the "Fatherland, which has been tortured and robbed by aggressive Zionism, talmudic atheism and cosmopolitan usury".

The range of problems attributed to the Jewish conspiracy stretches from the infiltration of Western culture into Russian society, to alcoholism, AIDS and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

AT A TIME when people in the Soviet Union are beset with harsh economic and social realities, Pamyat's creation of a scapegoat has earned it a large popular following. Professor of Government Joseph S. Nye, Jr., speaking last month on post-Cold War foreign policy, speculated that Pamyat could conceivably win a plurality of Soviet votes in a truly democratic election.

This group should be taken seriously. Pamyat has chapters in cities all over the Soviet Union and held a national congress in Leningrad last month. Many Western observers suspect that the group has received support from high officials in the current Soviet regime.

In late January, a member of Pamyat appeared on a nationally televised program and predicted pogroms for May 5th of this year against the Jews of Russia.

A century ago, pogroms, riots and massacres against Jews, were routine occurences in Russia and the Ukraine. There is little reason to assume that they won't happen again in a month and a half.

Already, Pamyat members have singled out Jewish children in schools and recorded their names. Leaflets are widely distributed in mailboxes threatening Jews to leave. A meeting of the Moscow Writers' Union was broken up by 30 Pamyat members, shouting "Today we are here with loudspeakers; tomorrow we will come with guns."

In October, Israel Kovelman, an 81 year-old Moscow man, and Vitaly Lekhtman, a 51 year-old Leningrad man, were murdered in what police suspect were outbreaks of anti-Semitism. Lekhtman was left with a Star of David carved into his back.

AS THEIR security becomes increasingly uncertain, Soviet Jews are left stranded by an international community that refuses to recognize or relieve their plight.

The U.S. will continue to fill its annual quota of 50,000 Jewish Soviet refugees. The Bush administration has refused to increase the quota, in part because of Israeli pressure to have Soviet Jews settle in Israel instead of the U.S.

This would not be such a problem if Jews were able to emigrate freely to Israel. But they are not. In December, Aeroflot, the official Soviet airline, reached a tentative agreement with El Al, the Israeli airline, to establish direct flights from Moscow to Tel Aviv, which would ferry 10,000 to 12,000 Jews per month out of the U.S.S.R. Without such flights, the only route out of the U.S.S.R. for Jews is a flight to Vienna, Rome, or Budapest, and then a connecting flight to either the U.S. or Israel.

But on February 19th, Gorbachev succumbed to pressure from Arab states and rejected the agreement, which had been strongly supported by the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress. The U.S. government had been counting on the direct flights, so it shut down its way-stations in Vienna and Rome. No escape remains for Soviet Jews.

In the tangled web of the upheaval in the U.S.S.R., East-West relations and Middle Eastern politics, human lives have become a political tool. The world can not sit by silently as the countdown to May 5 continues.

Allan S. Galper '93 is co-chair of the Harvard Hillel Oppressed Jewry Committee.

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