Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2640

Mrs CHILD(9.45) —According to the latest 1979 census of population in the Soviet Union, there are 1,811,000 Jews in the Union's 15 republics, but the factual figure is closer to 2 1/2 million. Soviet Jews are the sixteenth largest group among the 103 Soviet ethnic groups. The Soviet constitution guarantees all ethnic groups complete freedom to pursue their own culture, literature, traditions and language. Yet such rights are not accorded to the Jewish minority . There are two Jewish languages in the Soviet Union-Yiddish and Hebrew. Hebrew is a recognised world language and a number of Soviet universities and institutes of learning teach Hebrew and do research in the Hebrew language and literature. Jews cannot study in these institutions, nor are they permitted a single Hebrew school. Hebrew teachers are refused registration, warned against continuing their activities and are often subjected to persecution.

Similar situations pertain to the teachers of Yiddish. Anti-semitism is a crime under the Soviet constitution. In this respect, however, the gap between theory and practice is even wider than usual. In fact, anti-semitism is rampant throughout the Soviet Union. Public seminars are, of course, totally banned for Soviet Jewry, but private gatherings were only periodically subjected to harassment and obstruction in the past. However, during 1981 and since a whole series of such private meetings has been systematically broken up and participants who have been identified have been threatened. These meetings are manifestly harmless-they generally have to do with the study of the Jewish religion and history. But the Soviet authorities may now have concluded that all such meetings are dangerous to the existence of their totalitarian regime.

In one respect Soviet Jews are singled out for special treatment in a positive sense. Emigration from the Soviet Union is not permitted but under the Helsinki provision for reunification of families Jews are permitted to emigrate to Israel . Applicants, however, are subject to harassment and/or persecution. After an application for an exit visa, potential emigrants usually lose their jobs; some are brought before the courts on trumped up charges and sentenced to imprisonment, often for long terms, or internal exile. Emigration has dropped from over 5,000 a month at its peak to over 100 a month in June 1983. Tens of thousands of people have been refused exist visas and large numbers have never even had a reply to their applications. What the future will bring is hidden from us. But we are certain of one thing: Soviet Jews are no longer a lost tribe , they want to go home physically and spiritually.

The pervasive attack on the nascent Jewish culture, history, language and religion by the present regime in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics appears to be designed to isolate Soviet Jewry from outside contact and frighten them into submission. The open anti-semitic character of the campaign has plunged the Jews in the USSR into an abyss of insecurity more frightening than at any time since the death of Stalin. The signing of the Final Act at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe on 1 August 1975 brought great hope to the citizens of the signatory states. As each participating nation committed itself to the specific provision of the third basket, they simultaneously recognised the concept of human rights as a legitimate concern on the international agenda, and gave notice that the implementation of the Act would be monitored, each country being made resonsible for its failure to live up to the ideals included in the Act, as well as the overall spirit of Helsinki and that co-operation between nations and respect for human rights. In relation to the right of emigration, the Final Act contains the following provision:

The participating States will deal in a humanitarian spirit with the applications of persons who wish to be reunited with members of their family.

. . . and Principle VII on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, specifically contains the commitment by the participating states to 'act in conformity with the . . . Universal Declaration of Human Rights', which stipulates:

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own and to return to his country.

This is in clear defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights of the Helsinki Final Act, to all of which the Soviet Union has been a signatory. Jews in the Soviet Union have been deprived of the basic human rights to which the Soviet Government committed itself in the presence of the world. On 14 and 15 August this year the Jewish community in Australia, as part of a nationwide campaign, held a 32-hour vigil in the Melbourne city square to protest the plight of Soviet Jewry. The chosen date commemorated the death of 25 prominent Soviet Jewish writers and intellectuals executed on 12 August 1952. The slogan adopted for the campaign was: 'Let my people live. Let my people go'. I repeat again that the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union has dropped to a trickle. At the height of detente 5,000 Jews per month were allowed to leave Russia. In 1983 about 100 Soviet Jews have been permitted to leave. Large numbers of Soviet Jews still wish to emigrate to Israel to be united with their husbands, wives and/or children. If the Soviet Union does not want them, why does it not let them go?

Jewish communities everywhere in the world have been deeply concerned with study and with academic advancement. It is the privilege of a persecuted minority to be able to concentrate on educating itself. This was so in the Soviet Union, as in other countries where Jews suffer discrimination. But by 1976, the last year for which figures were available for those in universities, the proportion of Jewish students had almost halved. So had the proportion of Jewish postgraduates. It seems that there has been a planned and discreetly conducted campaign to squeeze Soviet Jews out of the education system. I believe people who care about human rights and freedom must join together to exert all possible pressure on the Soviet Government to grant this basic human right. Given the ebb and flow of international politics, nothing is impossible. If the Russians decide that it suits their purpose to allow a high level of emigration to resume, they will do so. Judicious application of pressure at the correct time can have an impact.

The petition circulated at the vigil and directed to the President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in five parts. It asked that the USSR permit the emigration of Soviet Jews from the Soviet Union and in particular permit those Soviet Jews who for years have sought to leave the USSR the right to leave and be reunited with their families in accordance with the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It also called for the Soviet Union to cease all harassment and pressure on Jews who express their wish to emigrate and to cease threats and intimidation against those teaching and studying Hebrew, to stop the harassment of Jewish seminars and to enable Jews to maintain and develop their national culture and religion. Finally, it called for an end to the Soviet Government's sponsored campaign that is fanning the flames of anti-Semitism in Russia. It was my privilege to be asked to address the vigil on 14 August. I concluded my remarks by quoting the words of the former Israeli Foreign Minister , Mr Abba Eban, who said:

The Soviet Union cannot have everything its own way, unless those of us who cherish freedom are so intimidated by its power and pretentions that we surrender our cause.

What can be done by the outside world? Many European social democrat, socialist and communist parties have spoken out vigorously in the cause of Soviet Jewry, particularly in the last 12 months. The general experience of the last few years has shown that the most effective aid to Soviet Jews has been the protests of the outside world. I have no doubt that if the Soviet Union responded to the plea of men and women of good will all over the world to allow Jewish people who wish to emigrate to Israel to do so, it would earn the thanks of those of us throughout the world who are interested in human rights and human dignity.