The Brussels Conference for Soviet Jewry

The Brussels Conference was a strange affair. The organisers had the dubious task of bringing representatives of Jewish organisations to Brussels in order that they should say their piece about the fate of their brethren in the Soviet Union. WUJS had great reservations about attending this conference because it was in essence a huge public relations act for World Jewry. It was indeed humiliating to see many of those present. Those people who had done very little in the past who now propounded what the Jewish people should do in the future for Soviet Jewry. The Conference internally was very sad. It was hard to believe those participants were the representatives of a people who had produced Marx, Spinoza and Einstein. Perhaps they were, indeed, not representatives of the Jewish people, but, instead representatives of impotent Jewish communities from all over the world, who knew how to talk but certainly not how to act. The in-fighting between the respective Jewish organisations had to be seen to be believed. Each one struggling so hard to obtain another place in this or that committee. Each one so concerned that his organisation should be seen in this world arena to be the one most deeply concerned about Soviet Jewry.

It was quite obvious a few months before the conference began as to what would take place. It was quite obvious that the innate ineffectiveness was deeply rooted in the basic structure of Jewish communities as they exist today. For example, the communities gave delegate places mainly to their traditional figureheads rather than to the youth who had been doing all the work for Soviet Jewry, Moreover, the criterion on which one attended the conference was not whether one had worked hard and long for Soviet Jewry, but whether one could afford the ticket to Brussels – again an action biased against young people who have very little money. The examples of double dealing and misinterpretation run like a Kishon comedy. It was very, very corrupt, yet at the same time, very, very funny. Shalom Aleichem could have written a good story about it which would then have been put on Broadway as a music hall comedy to end all music hall comedies.


The basic question before going was what would be WUJS’ role in the Conference? After some consideration, the most obvious objective was seen to be developing on independent programme amongst the youth. A number of youth caucuses were held before the official youth commission wherein all the basic problems concerning the basic concept of the Conference were discussed by the youth. Many young delegates to the Conference were convinced that they could democratise the Conference in a number of ways. After some debate this was ruled out as somewhat futile if not irrelevant as far as the needs of Soviet Jewry were concerned. One suggestion adopted was that a clearing house of Soviet Jewry information should be established side by side in the WUJS headquarters in London. Another suggestion was that the Jewish youth should request the formation of a permanent World Soviet Jewry organisation. This was strongly opposed by many WUJS representatives as it would certainly have given the opportunity to many incompetent Jewish organisations or political groups to dominate and bureaucratise efforts made for the Jews in the USSR. In the long run, this would have been extremely counter productive as regards the campaign for Soviet Jewry. This proposal was very strongly supported, of course, by the numerous French student groups. The vested party interests of such groups as KLESS, the Mapai Students in France were extremely clear when they proposed the concept of an international youth organisation and when they obstructed constructive ideas put forward by both WUJS and non WUJS delegations. The youth produced a Brussels declaration of the Jewish students and youth of the World. Many participants at the conference confided in private that it was far better than the General Declaration which was absurdly vague to say the least.


The Conference, however, was, in the writer’s opinion, a success. The inside was rotten and bad, but the outside was shown to the world and to the Soviet Jews as an impressive show of unity by concerned Jewish people. The Conference certainly upset and annoyed the Soviet Government. Such annoyance caused them to send their own ‘Soviet Jews’ led by David Dragunsky. The recent departure of hundreds of Soviet Jews for Israel is indicative of the worry and confusion shown by the Soviet authorities. It is certain that the Brussels Conference will certainly be remembered by the members of the CPSU. It will be remembered for a long, long time by the Soviet Jews themselves, for whom it was an act of supreme symbolic significance. The Conference, in itself was certainly a positive act, but whether it was worth the cost, which must have totalled at least a quarter of a million dollars, is most certainly debateable. All those Jewish organisations present in Brussels usually find it so very hard to give money to their youth for Soviet Jewry and for other activities, yet they were most certainly able to afford the cost of the trip ‘to Brussels. When it comes to prestige and having your photograph in the paper, money is quite obviously no obstacle.


It was not nice to hear every Jewish dictator from Paraguay to New Zealand blow their trumpets at Brussels for Soviet Jewry. There are, however, times when one must have a wider perspective of political reality. The world of realpolitik is one which will not be destroyed by messianic dreams. The Brussels Conference undoubtedly helped the cause of Soviet Jewry. Internally, it was unbelievably a fiasco. Externally, it was a great success. And that is what really counts.

Elul (WUJS) March-April 1971



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