WJC 85th Anniversary - World Jewish Congress
A Message from WJC President Ronald S. Lauder

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Menachem Z. Rosensaft

The Jewish Right to Equality

Judge Julian W. Mack

The World Jewish Congress during World War II

Gregory J. Wallance

The Re-enfranchisement of the Jew

Rabbi Stephen S.Wise

Nuremberg and Beyond: Jacob Robinson, a Champion for Justice

Jonathan A. Bush

The State of World Jewry, 1948

Nahum Goldmann

Gerhart M. Riegner: Pioneer for Jewish–Catholic Relations in the Contemporary World

Monsignor Pier Francesco Fumagalli

The World Jewish Congress and the State of Israel: A Personal Reminiscence

Natan Lerner

The World Jewish Congress, the League of Nations, and the United Nations

Zohar Segev

From Pariah to Partner: The Jews of Postwar Germany and the World Jewish Congress

Michael Brenner

Diplomatic Interventions: The World Jewish Congress and North African Jewry

Isabella Nespoli, Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Bourguiba’s Jewish Friend

S. J. Goldsmith

Soviet Jewry: Debates and Controversies

Suzanne D. Rutland

Advancing the Best in Jewish Culture

Philip M. Klutznick

The Struggle for Historical Integrity at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Laurence Weinbaum

New Directions and Priorities, 1985

Edgar M. Bronfman

Fighting Delegitimization: The United Nation’s “Zionism Is Racism” Resolution, a Case Study

Evelyn Sommer

Navigating the Communist Years: A Jewish Perspective

Maram Stern

The Kurt Waldheim Affair

Eli M. Rosenbaum

In Search of Justice: The World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Banks

Gregg J. Rickman

Confronting Terror: The Buenos Aires Bombings

Adela Cojab-Moadeb

The World Jewish Congress Today

Robert R. Singer

My Vision of the Jewish Future

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Robert R. Singer

WJC 1936 - 2021

Soviet Jewry: Debates and Controversies

Nahum Goldmann’s Strategy

One of the major issues facing world Jewry from 1948 until 1988 was the plight of the Jews in the former Soviet Union (USSR). In May 1967, a resolution of the World Conference of Jewish Organizations (COJO), a world- wide body created by Dr. Nahum Goldmann in 1958, stressed that “the survival of the Jewish people in the USSR has become the greatest and most critical problem of world Jewry in the Diaspora and calls for the utmost efforts being made for their salvation as Jews.” During this period, there was strong conflict over the best tactics to follow in the campaign. Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress, believed in a policy of accommodation, but other Jewish leaders, especially from the student movement, opposed this approach and advocated a policy of protest. By 1968, the actions of Soviet Jewish activists themselves had made it clear that they considered the better approach to be worldwide protest to focus attention on the plight of the Jews under Communist rule.

Following the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, Goldmann campaigned to improve the position of Soviet Jewry. At the third plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress, held in August 1953 in Geneva, Goldmann stressed that while the Jews of the Soviet Union did not face physical death, they were facing spiritual annihilation. Throughout the 1950s, he continued to raise concerns about the position of Soviet Jews and highlight the difficulties faced by the Jews of Poland and Romania.

The position Goldmann took was a policy of accommodation. He was consistent in his assertions that there was no official policy of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and that Jews enjoyed full civil rights. He also stressed that the campaign to improve the position of Soviet Jews had to be kept completely separate from the Cold War. He believed that efforts should be made to create a representative body through the federation of synagogues in the USSR and that Yiddish publications and cultural life should be resumed. He was keen to ensure that a delegation of Soviet Jews would again be present at meetings of the WJC, and at the Geneva WJC Assembly of August 1953, he expressed regret that the Jews of Eastern Europe were “sealed off from the rest of the Jewish people” despite the efforts of the WJC. He believed that “[t]his division must be regarded as a great misfortune. The unity of the Jewish people is the basic condition for Jewish survival.” Goldmann consistently worked to create links between the WJC and Soviet Jews.

Goldmann was concerned that a policy of protest would have negative repercussions for Soviet Jewry. He believed that the correct approach was quiet diplomacy and he feared that public criticism of the Soviet Union would undermine any chance of success. He remained firm in this position from 1953 until 1968 when he was overtaken by events.

In 1952–1953, in response to growing evidence of Soviet anti-Semitism, the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs created an unofficial, secret committee to assist Soviet Jews. Initially known as the “Office with No Name” it became known as Lishkat Hakesher (Liaison Bureau). Its aims were to support Soviet Jews against Stalin’s heightened anti-Semitism and to encourage emigration to Israel. Spearheaded by Shaul Avigur and Dr. Binyamin Eliav, it recruited a small group to create awareness of the situation in the West. This group included, for the French branch of the operation, Meir Rosenne (Rosenhaupt), who was originally from Romania and had completed his doctorate in law in Paris in 1957; the well-known author Emanuel Litvinoff in London; and Moshe Decter, who established an office called Jewish Minorities Research in New York. In 1958, Avigur also involved Isi Leibler, a young Australian Jewish leader from Melbourne.

It was decided that Israel’s direct involvement should be kept secret because of the strong pro-Soviet feelings of many left-wing Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as the sense that Israel was experiencing enough problems in the United Nations because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and should not further alienate the USSR leadership. Goldmann was approached and agreed to become a member of this secret committee and also allowed Rosenne to work out of the WJC offices in Paris.

Goldmann’s approach was to try to work through prominent left-wing personalities, such as former French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France and Soviet ambassadors, to gain entry to the corridors of power in the USSR. In 1956, he also tried to organize a meeting with Yugoslav leader General Tito to discuss Arab-Israeli relations and Soviet Jewry, but this did not eventuate.

With the Suez crisis of 1956–1957, the position of Soviet Jews deteriorated. At the WJC Executive meeting held in London in May 1957, Goldmann advocated a change of policy. He noted that since 1953, there had been a few minor improvements, such as the publication of the first Hebrew prayer book since 1917, the establishment of a “so-called yeshiva,” the arrival of a few rabbinical delegations, and the holding of a few Yiddish concerts. However, unlike in other Communist countries such as Poland and Romania, emigration from the Soviet Union had not been permitted. Goldmann presented the Communist explanations for the lack of Jewish life: the fact that Jews were not concentrated geographically and that most Russian Jews were assimilated and not interested in maintaining Judaism. However, he rejected these arguments and stressed that the younger generation had become more Jewish than their parents in response to Stalinist anti-Semitism. In his opening address he stated:

We have become aware of this problem more and more in the last few years. We did not deal with it so much publicly as we hoped that it will be possible with the leaders of the Soviet Union to bring about some solution to the problem. I think that the time has come when Jewish organizations and certainly the World Jewish Congress, speaking for the many communities, should not hesitate any more to put the problem of Eastern European and especially Soviet Jewry before the world as maybe the major Jewish problem of today.

Goldmann felt very concerned that after the loss of six million Jews during the Holocaust, a further three million Jews in the Soviet Union might be lost due to inaction on the part of world Jewry. In a press release issued after this meeting, the WJC pledged to “secure the survival of East European Jewry as a distinctive group . . . we shall neither rest nor relax until the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe have been brought back into the mainstream of Jewish life, and Israel has been made secure with the help of all Jews, including Soviet Jews.”

Despite Goldmann’s cooperation with the Israelis, key WJC figures continued to advocate silent diplomacy and to oppose open protest by Jewish groups. He also continued to persist in trying to invite a delegation from the Soviet Union to WJC plenary meetings. In January 1959, Goldmann, together with US-based WJC Executive member Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig, visited the Soviet Embassy in Washington to see if representa-tives of Soviet Jewry could attend the WJC plenary assembly planned for August 1959 in Stockholm. In July 1959, the rabbis of both Moscow and Odessa sent negative replies to the WJC invitation, explaining that they could not participate in political activities and, since the WJC supported Israel, it was “Zionist-orientated.” At the end of his letter, Rabbi Dimant of Odessa stated, “We regret that you attempt to draw us into the sphere of activities of your organization.”

In 1959 a series of arrests of Romanian Jews was carried out and an internal debate ensued as to how the WJC should react to this situation. In November 1959, Alex Easterman, Director of the WJC Department of International Affairs in London, arranged for a letter to be published in The Times, signed by leading non-Jewish personalities and criticizing the sentences handed down to the Romanian Jews. Goldmann supported this move and wrote to Easterman that the letter was “an excellent piece of work” and that he was sure “it [would] make some impression on the Rumanians.”

In Paris, Rosenne was experiencing problems with Armand Kaplan, the secretary-general of the WJC’s French Section, and at the end of 1959, he decided to move to the offices of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). Tensions between Rosenne and the WJC personnel increased in early 1960. In March 1960, Khrushchev planned to visit Paris, and Rosenne decided to prepare a brochure and booklet on the situation of Soviet Jewry, to be published in the name of the French WJC branch just before Khrushchev was to arrive. Rosenne consulted closely with Goldmann about these two publications, but when they came out, Kaplan claimed that they had been published without WJC authorization.

During the early 1960s, the situation of Soviet Jewry continued to deteriorate as a result of official, state-sponsored anti-Semitism. In 1960, matzah baking was prohibited in Kiev, Odessa, Kishinev, and Riga, and the supply of matzah continued to be a problem in subsequent years. Synagogues continued to be closed and by 1960, there was not a single Jewish school still open. Anti-Semitism became more widespread, with anti-Semitic articles being published throughout the Soviet press.

In 1960, in the face of this growing persecution, Meir Rosenne, working closely with his friend and colleague Saul Friedlander, decided that an international conference should be convened in Paris with leading intellectuals, writers, artists, scientists, and above all “men of spiritual standing

. . . to appeal to the Soviet leadership about the ominous situation of Jews in the Soviet Union.” Goldmann agreed that this conference could be held under his aegis, together with Daniel Mayer, President of the French League of Human Rights and former Socialist Labour Minister of France. In early September, just before the conference was to start, Rosenne received a telegram from Nehemiah Levanon of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Levanon had replaced Binyamin Eliav in the Lishkat Hakesher, and he instructed Rosenne to stop all preparations for the conference. This was due to a telegram Goldmann had received from the USSR informing him that if the conference was held, Romania would stop all Jewish emigration to Israel. Rosenne believed that it would be an enormous mistake to cancel the conference at the last minute, and he flew to Geneva, where Goldmann was staying at the time, to try to persuade him to change his mind. After failing to ascertain the exact source of the information from the USSR, Rosenne sent a telegram stating that there was no proof of the Soviet request and that it would do more damage to cancel the conference. The following day, Yedioth Ahronoth announced that Ben-Gurion had insisted that the conference take place. The headline of the article was “Under pressure from Ben-Gurion, Goldmann decides to go on with the conference.” This article was picked up throughout the Israeli and European media.

On September 15, 1960 the conference took place with fifteen countries represented, spanning four continents including Africa. The array of participants was most impressive, and included key figures in the world of letters, art, science, and politics. Afterward, a statement was issued stressing the dispassionate nature and the lack of partisanship of the gathering. It further stated that after the destruction of six million European Jews— one third of the Jewish people—by the Nazis, the Soviet Jews, numbering some three million, were “the largest surviving Jewish community in the continent of Europe. Their wellbeing is surely therefore the joint responsibility of our civilization.” The statement pointed out that all aspects of Jewish cultural life had been repressed in the USSR and requested that the Soviet Jews be allowed the same rights as other minority groups in the Soviet Union.

Subsequently, Goldmann produced two “interim reports” for those who attended the Paris Conference, one in July 1961 and another in September 1963. These stressed the increasing problems facing Soviet Jews, especially in light of the death sentence introduced for economic crimes. In his 1961 report, he emphasized that:

[t]he situation of Soviet Jewry has, for many years, been a “forbid- den” subject. Breaking the wall of silence, beginning open discussions and exchanges of opinion can contribute a great deal towards fostering a rethinking, eventual improvement and positive solutions, of the situation.

Goldmann also continued to work with Decter to enlist prominent figures to support the campaign for Soviet Jewry, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. At the same time, Goldmann continued his efforts for quiet diplomacy and, as key historian of this period Yaakov Ro’i has written, he “never gave up hope that he would be invited to the USSR to discuss the lot of Soviet Jewry with the leadership of that country as the plenipotentiary of Western Jewry.” In 1964, Goldmann opposed the decision of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry (AJCSJ), which rejected the quiet diplomacy approach, to meet with President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. He wrote, “Demagogic speeches and exaggerated resolutions may do a lot of harm.”

In the meantime, the AJCSJ moved ahead in 1965 with its campaign of protest, holding two major events in early June 1965: a rally at Madison Square Garden on June 3, 1965 followed by a vigil in Washington on June 4. On June 10, in keeping with his opposition to open protest, Goldmann responded with a strong and controversial press statement featured on the front page of The New York Times. He criticized those who accused the Soviet regime of being anti-Semitic or of denying Jews their civil rights, and claimed that “accusations are being made against Russia which are not justified, and which can only delay the solution of the problem, and even harm Soviet Jewry.”

Some papers defended Goldmann. In a major editorial published in The Times of London, the following was written:

Recently there have been loud protests in the west about the condition of Soviet Jews But if, as seems likely, Moscow’s gesture is a response to foreign opinion it is more likely the product of some quiet talks that the World Jewish Congress has been having with the Russians. 
. . . If Soviet Jews want a position in Soviet society similar to that of the Orthodox Church, it does not help to constantly show them as the “ward” of American and other western organizations. A quiet, diplomatic approach to the Russians is more likely to be effective. Using this method, the World Jewish Congress has been trying to bring about the creation of a central body to represent Jews of the Soviet Union. It has been said that religion is like a nail and the harder you hit it, the deeper it penetrates. The same may apply to Soviet antisemitism, which should certainly be hit—but the blows have to be carefully aimed.

In October 1965, Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig, the WJC Director of International Affairs in New York, expressed his concerns about the negative effects of public demonstrations. At this time, a resolution was introduced at the United Nations condemning ideologies such as racism and fascism. An effort was made to include anti-Semitism, which led the Soviet Union to also add Zionism to the list. In the end, both anti-Semitism and Zionism were excluded, but Perlzweig expressed the fear to Goldmann that “this marks the opening gun in a Soviet campaign to reply to the use of the UN as a platform from which to attack the Soviets on the Jewish question.”

In 1966, the publication of Elie Wiesel’s The Jews of Silence further high- lighted the problems facing Soviet Jewry. Wiesel later told a Toronto audience, “I went to Russia drawn by the silence of its Jews and I brought back their cry. What torments me most is not the ‘Jews of Silence’ I met in Russia, but the silence of the Jews I live among today.” In response, Goldmann criticized public campaigns on the basis that the existence of three million Russian Jews could be endangered. Elie Wiesel replied: “How can we be sure that our complaints and protests will not have harmful results for them? . . . Only the Russian Jews themselves can answer that question and they do: ‘Keep calling! Awaken public opinion.’ ”

In February 1967, Alexei Kosygin visited London, and the community met to discuss the correct tactics. Key members of British Jewry were in favor of holding a public meeting of protest, a proposal that Easterman strongly opposed, and managed to prevent from happening by insisting on postponing discussion of the idea until it was too late. However, Jewish students organized a protest rally with around one thousand students marching to the Soviet embassy. The third secretary met a small delegation and invited them in. They presented him with a memorandum on Soviet Jewry. Easterman congratulated the students afterward on their success, but when they asked if that meant “a ‘new wind’ [was blowing] regarding Soviet Jewry” in the WJC, he insisted that in his opinion, they still needed to work “through political and diplomatic channels.”

Diaspora Opposition to Goldmann

One of the strongest critics of Goldmann’s policy in the Diaspora was the young Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler. In November 1962, Australia was the first country to raise the issue of Soviet Jewry and human rights at the United Nations, as a result of the lobbying of Melbourne Jewish leaders Maurice Ashkanasy and Isi Leibler. Following his success in having the issue raised by Australia at the United Nations, Leibler worked assiduously at establishing contacts with members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), maintaining consistent contact through telephone conversations and meetings with key figures. He was able to persuade Rex Mortimer, Communist leader and editor of Arena, a Melbourne-based Communist newspaper, of the problems facing Soviet Jewry.

Given this Melbourne record of consistent campaigning and protest on behalf of Soviet Jewry, a clash with Goldmann over the issue of tactics was inevitable. Already in April 1965, Leibler wrote an extremely critical letter to Litvinoff about Goldmann, referring to “his public statements minimizing Soviet antisemitism.” At the WJC Executive meeting held in early June 1965 in Geneva, a clash between Leibler and Dr. Goldmann was reported as follows:

Leibler, whose published survey has attracted worldwide attention, thrustfully advocated a harder line in Jewish approaches to the Soviet Union in order to enlist support of non-conforming leftist circles. Dr. Goldmann, in turn, with a formidable display of forensic fireworks, insisted that his quiet diplomacy was the better course. In general, the consensus was that Dr. Goldmann had won on points but Mr Leibler’s pugnacity and tenacity was admirably commented upon. The encouraging thing about the lively exchange was its implication that new voices are beginning to be heard and new ideas to emerge.

Leibler then decided to attack Goldmann at the Strassbourg meeting held on July 13 and 14, 1965, when he claimed that “shtadlonus [intercession] and private diplomacy used since 1956 have been abysmal failures as actual conditions deteriorated,” and that the only approach was “a militant campaign designed to mobilize public opinion.” Leibler concluded his address with the following words: “And let’s not hear any talk about restraint. Principled, factual, well-documented approach, yes! But based on militant public campaigns, not on shtadlonus or silent diplomacy.” Goldmann’s response was highly critical, and he accused his own critics of “extreme naivety and even stupidity,” stressing his right to make decisions about tactics. He also accused the activists of undermining any chance he had of coming to an understanding with Soviet authorities.

At the World Jewish Congress plenary session held in Brussels in August 1966, the debate over tactics in relation to Soviet Jewry continued, with Leibler again being highly critical of Goldmann’s approach. The Jewish Chronicle described the debate as follows:

While delegates accepted Dr. Goldmann’s warning to keep the issue of Soviet Jewry out of the cold war and avoid exaggerated accusations which cannot be substantiated, his cautious approach was challenged by some delegates. 
Dr. Goldmann said that while others liked to beat the drum, he himself preferred to play the flute. 
One of his most persistent critics on the Soviet issue, the Australian Mr I. Leibler, complained that the Congress President’s role was not to play one instrument but to conduct the whole orchestra. To which Dr. Goldmann retorted: How can I be the conductor when I have no assurance that my baton would be followed?

Following the Six-Day War and the defeat of the Arab armies, the Soviets intensified their attacks on Israel and Zionism. In response to these policies, Goldmann increased his level of criticism of government policy toward Soviet Jews. In October 1967, at the time of the fiftieth anniversay of the Bolshevik Revolution, he sent a message complimenting the Soviet Union on its achievements, but stressed that the promises made to the Jewish community in 1917 had not been fulfilled. Then, in January 1968, the WJC Governing Council again criticized the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist statements emanating from the Soviets, and appealed to the Soviet leaders to grant full equality to Jewry, on the basis of rights afforded to other religious and ethnic minorities. Similar statements were made at a conference of the Institute of Jewish Affairs in December 1969, with Goldmann reinforcing these concerns in a statement in March 1970:

The current violent anti-Israel and anti-Zionist campaign organized by the Soviet authorities is the most convincing confirmation of the desire of a large number of the three million Jews in the Soviet Union. This campaign has culminated in the use of Soviet Jews to deny the plight of their community and to denounce Israel.

He appealed to the Soviets to allow freedom of movement for Soviet Jews, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later in 1970, the Institute of Jewish Affairs published a collection of essays by key scholars of the area, edited by Lionel Kochan, and expanded its biannual journal dealing with Soviet and East European affairs to a higher quality one renamed Soviet Jewish Affairs.

The Leningrad Hijacking and Revision of Approach

On June 15, 1970, eighteen Russians, nine of whom were Jewish, were arrested at Leningrad’s Smolny airport and accused of planning to hijack a small plane, which was scheduled for a domestic flight, and take it out of the country. At the same time, another eight Jews were arrested in Leningrad, Moscow, Riga, and Kharkov. Further arrests were made in July and August in the Kishinev and Riga areas. All the Jews arrested had applied to emigrate to Israel. The KGB seized letters from Israel, Hebrew textbooks, articles on Jewish history, tape recordings of Hebrew songs, and even a copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, as “evidence.” These events led to heightened activity of Jews throughout the world. 

The Leningrad trial, which lasted a week, began on December 16 and took place in camera. No member of the Western media was allowed in. The accused were prosecuted under “Article 64 of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code, which defines ‘flight abroad or refusal to return to the USSR from abroad’ as one of the treasonable offences which may be punishable by death.” When the trial began, Goldmann issued a very strong statement condemning the Soviet actions:

The current trial of Soviet Jews in Leningrad must be regarded as the most disturbing development in the difficult situation of Jews in the USSR. Available information indicates the silencing of their ever more openly expressed affirmation of their Jewish identity and desire to emigrate to Israel.

He again asked that Soviet Jews be permitted to emigrate freely to Israel if they so desired, and if they chose to remain, that they be offered “full opportunities for the enjoyment of Jewish cultural, religious, and communal life.”

All of the defendants were given prison sentences ranging from four to fifteen years, with two of them— Mark Dymshits and Edward Kuznetkov—receiving the death sentence. The Soviets claimed that they had all pleaded guilty. These harsh sentences were thought to be a warning to would-be hijackers, as well as an effort to prevent Jews from applying for the right to emigrate.

The severity of the sentences led to a worldwide outcry, with protests being made by key international leaders, Nobel prize winners, and US Members of Congress. The press also highlighted the injustice of the death sentences. Goldmann immediately sent a strongly worded cable to the chairman of the Soviet Presidium Nikolai Podgorny, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and the Soviet ambassadors in Washington and Paris, Anatoly Dobrynin and Valerian Zorin, respectively. He stressed that the sentences were “incredibly harsh and repugnant” and requested intervention to commute the death sentences and release all of the accused. He also cabled other international leaders, including Presidents Tito and Ceaucescu, Prime Mininster Indira Ghandi, and Federal Chancellor Brandt, as well as the Swedish Foreign Minister.

In response to international pressure, the Soviets reduced the death sentences for Dymshits and Kuznetkov to life imprisonment, which Goldmann welcomed. However, Goldmann initially opposed a proposal to hold an international conference of world Jewry to discuss the situation in the Soviet Union, which led to the first Brussels Presidium convened in February 1971. Goldmann believed that the Soviets would never permit significant emigration and that world Jewry should focus on campaigning for religious and cultural rights, rather than family reunion. Others, including the Jewish Agency, “advocated an all-out struggle for emigration.”

However, by the early 1970s, it was clear that the demands for emigration were meeting with a successful response and that the only way forward was to continue the policy of protest. In response to the new developments, including the Leningrad hijack trial, the WJC Governing Council agreed to become a sponsor for the Brussels Presidium at its meeting in January 1971. Its delegation included Secretary-General Gerhart Riegner, Armand Kaplan, and other officers of the Governing Council, but Goldmann himself did not attend.

In March 1971 Goldmann cabled Leonid Brezhnev before the 24th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) requesting the party to adopt resolutions favorable to the Jewish community. The Governing Council continued to issue critical statements about Soviet policies, including a public cable sent to Brezhnev before his visit to Paris in October 1971. On the twentieth anniversary of the execution of twenty-four Jewish Soviet writers on August 12, 1952, Goldmann also issued a strong statement reiterating demands for freedom of emigration, the end of harassment of Jews who had applied to emigrate, and freedom of religious and cultural practices within the Soviet Union. At the same time, the WJC expressed its strong opposition to the radicalism and violent actions of the Jewish Defense League led by Rabbi Meir Kahane.

In November 1971, the idea of insisting on people who had tertiary education being taxed before their departure was raised by the Soviets, but it was not until August 3, 1972 that this concept was approved by the Supreme Soviet and implemented on August 14. Officially, the head tax was not dis- criminatory, since it applied to both Jews and non-Jews. In September 1972, specific restrictions for Soviet citizens wishing to emigrate to “fascist” countries such as Israel, South Africa, Spain, and Portugal were added. In reality, however, it only affected Jews, since non-Jews could leave the country on a tourist visa, and then apply for residency once outside the Soviet Union. Those applying to travel to one of the “fascist” countries, however, had to renounce their Soviet citizenship and pay 500 rubles for an exit visa and an additional 400 rubles for renouncing their citizenship. This Soviet initiative to contain Soviet Jewish emigration again led to a world outcry. Goldmann issued a strong statement condemning the imposition of the “diploma tax” (also known as a “ransom tax”), describing it as “an unworthy blot on the [Soviets’] record [for] free education.” The WJC and its affiliates were also active protesting the tax at the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

The WJC Governing Council expressed further objections during the WJC British Section’s Emergency Conference of Jewish Communities in September 1972, and again in November 1972 at its Paris meeting. In December 1972, Goldmann issued a plea for the Soviet Union to grant amnesty to the “Prisoners of Zion” who had been incarcerated simply because of their application to emigrate to Israel. In June 1973, the WJC World Executive expressed its satisfaction at the increasing numbers of Soviet Jews being granted permission to emigrate, and this was also noted in January 1974. However, when the Soviets reduced emigration in mid-1974, the leadership expressed its distress at its meeting that summer in Lausanne, Swizerland. In addition, Goldmann continued to appeal for the restoration of full, equal rights to Soviet Jews. This policy led to great controversy. At the mid-year meeting of the WJC Executive in 1973, Dr. Ben-Zion Keshet, a Likud Member of Knesset, strongly criticized Goldmann’s policy, stating that his actions were “contrary to the majority of the members of the WJC.” Keshet also said that a request for more Jewish culture might lead to greater promotion of publications such as Sovietish Heimland, and other anti-Zionist and anti-Israel propaganda. Other Israeli speakers also referred to the intense Soviet hostility to Zionism and Israel, with Dr. Moshe Levran claiming that it would be “extremely naïve to hope for the revival of Jewish cultural life in the USSR.”

Thus, although Goldmann had recognized the need for public protest, he still continued to believe that the Soviets could be persuaded to change their domestic policies toward Soviet Jewry through private diplomacy and requests to the leadership. In its October 1974 report on Soviet Jewry for the period 1966–1974, the WJC expressed its hope that this internal change would occur. It also stated, “The World Jewish Congress will continue its efforts to obtain a breakthrough with regard to this important issue as well. It does not abandon hope that one day it will be able to welcome Soviet Jewry within the ranks and councils of world Jewry.” This hope was finally fulfilled in February 1989, with the opening of the Samuel Mikhoels Center in Moscow, the first official institution to promote Jewish culture in the Soviet Union, supported by the WJC and spearheaded by Isi Leibler, then a WJC vice president.


In hindsight, it is easy to claim that the policy of quiet diplomacy was not going to succeed, as the Soviet Union did respond to open, public protest. However, Goldmann remained firm in his convictions and was not pre- pared to change his position. Indeed, as late as 1979, after he had resigned as WJC president, he was still writing that “public protest was ‘dangerous and immoral’ because it might put Russian Jews at risk rather than help them.”