Exit Visa

While I appreciate Zeev Ben-Shlomo’s general review of my book, “Exit Visa,” I cannot accept the .contention that the Moscow Helsinki Committee did not play an important role in the life of the Jewish emigration movement between 1976 and 1978.

Jewish participation in the committee’s work was not the action of a few isolated desperate refuseniks, but had the sympathy of a probable majority of members of the activist Exodus movement. There is sufficient evidence to prove this point, and not least the letter of 10 Jewish activists following the searches of the homes of Alexeyeva, Ginsburg and Orlov or, indeed, the appeal of seven Jewish scientists after the trial of Orlov last summer.

Moreover, it is important to note that those Jewish activists associated with the committee were not nonentities on the periphery of the movement, but very prominent activists such as Vladimir Slepak, Ida Nudel and Professor Alexander Lerner.

In “Exit Visa” I did explain in great detail that there were two schools of thought at that time—those who were close to, or members of, the Helsinki Committee and those who, although sympathetic to its aims, preferred to concentrate on cultural matters.

When I wrote about “a formal alliance” based on the Helsinki Agreement between the Jewish activists and the human rights movement, I certainly did not categorise it in the concrete terms implied in the review. Even so, the Jewish and human rights movement were extremely close at that time.

A specifically Jewish Helsinki Committee, for example, was not set up, unlike the Ukrainians or Armenians. Instead, the Jews sat as full members of the Moscow Committee, contributing, with only rare exceptions, to issues which related to the Jewish experience in the USSR. Moreover, Shcharansky was involved in the early discussions in the formaton of the committee. They were founders, not “joiners,” as the review erroneously suggests.

I wrote “Exit Visa- to produce a documented record which could  be used as an educational medium. This meant detailing all the facts, not just the selected ones to coincide with a specific point of view, If I produced no verdict on the Jewish movement’s involvement with the Helsinki Committee, it was because I believed (and still do) that it is too early to pass judgement—especially before the Olympics, the Madrid Conference and the American elections, all of which take place next year.

The volatility of superpower relations could have affected the outcome of the Shcharansky affair for the better; there is no reason to suppose that it should not act positively for Soviet Jews in the future.

In the long run, Zeev Ben-Shlomo may indeed be proven to be right. History may show the liaison with the Helsinki Committee to be an unmitigated disaster. Until that time, however, people have a right to all the facts and from that position they will be able to make up their own minds.

Jewish Chronicle 1978

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