7,000 exit permits were granted to Soviet Jews during the first six months of 1976—about the same figure as 1975.
A few prominent people—including Tamara Galperina and Vitaly Rubin—have been given permission to leave, yet permits have been refused to most of the major activists. Moreover the KGB has waited two years to announce that the death sentence passed on Mikhail Leviev has been commuted to 15 years imprisonment.
In 1972 and 1973, when bargaining over detente was such a crucial factor in Soviet politics, the annual emigration rate was well over 30,000. Since the demise of the Jackson Amendment and the policy of the US Administration to overlook the Jewish problem in the USSR, the Soviet authorities have clearly regulated the rate at a static 14,000 a year—more than 50 per cent down on the 1972 figure.
Yet over 13,000 invitations were sent from Israel to Soviet Jews in the first four months of this year. If this rate is maintained, there are a potential 40,000 emigrants for 1976, assuming that everyone submit his application.
This means that a Jew who wishes to leave has something like a one-in-three chance of success. Another way of looking at it is that if everyone who received an invitation applies for an exit visa, over 60 per cent would be refused due only to what appears to be a quota policy of the authorities.
Even so, the number of those who have expressed a desire to leave by requesting an invitation is nearly 20 per cent higher on average for the first four months of 1976 compared to last year. Such a trend, however, may only be passing and the high figure may drop as the year progresses.
From those granted permission to leave this year, just over half went to Israel. This is a deterioration on last year’s figures when 60 per cent of all Soviet emigrants left for Israel.
There does not appear to have been any significant change in the situation of the refuseniks in 1976. Only a constant, and perhaps more subtle, persecution is the order of the day. There were numerous trials of activists in 1975 yet except for the arrest of Shmuel Zalmanson, no-one has been interned in a prison or a camp this year.
It would appear, therefore, that the authorities applied direct repression last year in order to discipline the movement for the future and exert control over it. This was particularly pertinent in the trials of those young men who refused to be conscripted into the armed forces.
In 1976, the KGB has attempted to maintain the status quo in harassment without resorting to blatant forms of repression such as arrest and trial, which doubtlessly would have widespread repercussions in the west. The Kremlin did not want any diversions from its deliberations during the 25th party congress. The publicity accorded to the Brussels Conference on Soviet Jewry meant that the authorities could not ignore the issue. Two senior Soviet officials met activists at the time of Brussels—the first occasion for many years that such high personages agreed to talk to the refuseniks. Though nothing new emerged from the conversation, the authorities felt that they had to make this concession to western public opinion.
The same principle probably motivated the KGB to invite the British Chief Rabbi at the end of last year.
Another factor influencing the KGB’s determination to create a good impression in the west has undoubtedly been the fact that 1976 is American election year. The KGB does not want Soviet Jews to become a campaign issue. From this point of view, the fact that Senator Henry Jackson was so swiftly knocked out of the presidential race must have caused many a sigh of relief in Moscow.
Even so President Ford in his contest with the anti-detente challenger Robert Reagan, has been forced to utter some criticisms of Moscow. But he has pursued the same policy of sitting on the fence as far as Soviet Jews are concerned.
This led Professor Benjamin Levich to release to American correspondents in Moscow a letter severely critical of Ford.
Perhaps the saddest events so far in 1976 has been the death of Colonel Yefim Davidovich. After repeated attempts to leave, he was struck down by a fifth and final heart attack in April. This tragedy was deeply felt by many in this country and throughout Jewish communities in the USSR.
A statement by Moscow activists testified to their own bitterness over his death. It concluded with what was perhaps an indirect message to the next President of the United States:
“Oh you noble-minded gentlemen in the west, here is detente in reality, here is the spirit of Helsinki. Who will be their next victim? If the hangmen are not stopped today, then very many will not escape their clutches tomorrow. Eternal memory to the hero and martyr, Yefim Davidovich”.
Jewish Observer 1 July 1976