The Price of a Jew

On 3 August the Council of Ministers of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed a resolution to levy a ‘diploma tax’ on all Jews who wished to go to Israel. This meant basically that all qualified Jews have to pay back the cost of their education to the Soviet government before emigrating. The tax scales run from 4,500 roubles (£2,250) for an ordinary teacher up to 52,000 roubles (£16,000) for an eminent professor. Vladimir Zaslavsky, a candidate in biological sciences (equivalent to a master’s degree) is priced at 15,000 roubles (£7,500). Professor Benjamin Levich, an internationally known leading electrochemist, who has been refused permission to take up a research post at Oxford, must and £41,100 for his six-member family.

This tax does not apply just to scientists. For example, Victor Perelman, a Moscow journalist who was recently dismissed from Literaturnaya Gazeta after applying for an exit permit for Israel, must pay the cost of his law degree, journalist’s diploma and his wife’s medical degree in order to leave. This comes in total to 17,000 roubles (£8,500).

For most Soviet citizens these sums are in impossible ransom. Further, many Jews who wish to go to Israel are currently unemployed, having been dismissed from their jobs because they want to emigrate, and ire therefore unable to earn any money it all. A number of Jews who have received exit permits are in fact unable to leave because they cannot raise the required sums. Another turn of the screw is that Soviet Jews with exit permits may be asked to pay up in a specified time limit or lose their right to emigrate. Jewish communities have reacted strongly to the levy, and their leaders, determined to fight the Jews for sale’ mentality of the Soviet authorities, have refused to pay one rouble.

This latest attempt to liquidate the Jewish exodus movement in the USSR is the peak of a campaign which started just before Nixon’s visit in May. Since then there has been a sharp intensification of the general repression directed against those Jews who want to go to Israel. In the last five weeks there have been no fewer than six trials of Soviet Jews. Four of these were on charges of evading military service. The simultaneous conscription of Jewish activists into the Red Army was another tactic utilised to silence the Jews. One Odessa Jew who did not want to serve in the army, 22-year-old Yuri Pokh, was given three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment at the end of July. In the cases of Ilya Glezer and Vladimir Markham, only a few hours’ notice was given to their relatives before the start of the trials. This and the barring of Western journalists from the proceedings were clear indications that the accused were to be sentenced as soon as possible without demonstrative repercussions in the West.

This new policy of harassment manifested itself 24 hours before Nixon’s visit when the telephone lines of many Jewish activists were disconnected. In June the ‘Voice of Israel’ radio transmissions to the USSR were jammed in an attempt to stop news about Israel and Jewish communities at large reaching Soviet listeners. There has also been a clamp-down on the teaching of Hebrew in private ulpanim. This has been carried out by the refusal of local financial authorities to register these ulpanim officially as tax-paying bodies. In the words of one Pristavkin, a senior member of the Moscow municipal council on 20 June: ‘There will be no registration. Soviet citizens do not need Hebrew — the teaching of Hebrew is forbidden.’

There have also been attempts to implicate leading Moscow Jews in other trials. Vladimir Slepak, for example, was mentioned in an article about the Glezer trial in last week’s Pravda. He was said to be one of a sad band of ‘amoral monsters’ who were passing information over the telephone. On another occasion Victor Polsky was accused of ‘giving instructions’ to the Jews of Sverdlovsk during the investigation of Vladimir Markham, who was sentenced at the beginning of this month to three years’ strict regime in a Soviet labour camp. This week Androsov, the man in charge of the Lubarsky affair, has been questioning other Moscow Jews about such basic things as why they write open letters to Soviet and world leaders demanding to go to Israel.

The diploma tax is, by far, the harshest of these repressive and reactionary measures. It is estimated that it will affect at least 30 per cent of emigrants awaiting exit permits. Although reaction to the tax has been vigorous, significantly no mention of it has appeared in the Soviet press. The decision to levy the tax, therefore still has to be officially ratified. In the interim comparisons with anti-Semitic legislation of Czarist times are understandably being drawn.

 New Statesman 1 September 1972

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