A re­fusenik’s an­swer to Iran

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY NATAN SHA­RAN­SKY

These days, like many Is­raelis and Amer­i­can Jews, I find my­self in a pre­car­i­ous and painful sit­u­a­tion. Those of us who be­lieve that the nu­clear agree­ment just signed be­tween world pow­ers and Iran is dan­ger­ously mis­guided are now com­pelled to crit­i­cize Is­rael’s best friend and ally, the gov­ern­ment of the United States. In stand­ing up for what we think is right, for both our peo­ple and the world, we find our­selves at odds with the power best able to pro­tect us and pro­mote sta­bil­ity. And in­stead of join­ing the hope­ful cho­rus of those who be­lieve peace is on the hori­zon, we must risk giv­ing the im­pres­sion that we some­how pre­fer war.

As dif­fi­cult as this sit­u­a­tion is, how­ever, it is not un­prece­dented. Jews have been here be­fore, 40 years ago, at a his­toric junc­ture no less fright­en­ing or fate­ful than to­day’s.

In the early 1970s, Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon in­au­gu­rated his pol­icy of de­tente with the Soviet Union with an ex­tremely am­bi­tious aim: to end the Cold War by nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two su­per­pow­ers.

Among the ob­sta­cles Nixon faced was the USSR’s re­fusal to al­low on-site in­spec­tions of its weapons fa­cil­i­ties. Moscow did not want to give up its main ad­van­tage, a closed po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that pre­vented in­for­ma­tion and peo­ple from es­cap­ing and pre­vented pry­ing eyes from look­ing in.

Yet the Soviet Union, with its very rigid and at­ro­phied econ­omy, badly needed co­op­er­a­tion with the free world, which Nixon was pre­pared to of­fer. The prob­lem was that he was not pre­pared to de­mand nearly enough from Moscow in re­turn. And so as Nixon moved to grant the Soviet Union most-fa­vored-na­tion sta­tus, and with it the same trade ben­e­fits as U.S. al­lies, Demo­cratic Sen. Henry Jack­son of Washington pro­posed what be­came a his­toric amend­ment, con­di­tion­ing the re­moval of sanc­tions on the Soviet Union’s al­low­ing free em­i­gra­tion for its cit­i­zens.

By that time, tens of thou­sands of Soviet Jews had asked per­mis­sion to leave for Is­rael. Jack­son’s amend­ment sought not only to help these peo­ple but also and more fun­da­men­tally to change the char­ac­ter of de­tente, link­ing im­proved eco­nomic re­la­tions to be­hav­ioral change by the USSR. With­out the free move­ment of peo­ple, the sen­a­tor in­sisted, there should be no free move­ment of goods.

The Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion in the White House ob­jected fu­ri­ously. It also claimed that by im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Moscow it would be bet­ter able to pro­tect us per­son­ally and to en­sure that some Jews could em­i­grate each year. This put Jewish ac­tivists in­side the USSR in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. We feared op­pos­ing our great­est bene­fac­tor, yet we wanted free­dom for all Soviet Jews, and we be­lieved that would re­sult only from un­re­lent­ing pres­sure to bring down the Iron Cur­tain. This is why, de­spite the clear risks and KGB threats, we chose to pub­licly sup­port the amend­ment.

Amer­i­can Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions also faced a dif­fi­cult choice. They were re­luc­tant to speak out against the U.S. gov­ern­ment and ap­pear to put the “nar­row” Jewish in­ter­est above the cause of peace. Yet they also re­al­ized that the free­dom of all Soviet Jews was at stake, and they ac­tively sup­ported the pol­icy of link­age.

Now all that was needed for the amend­ment to be­come law was enough prin­ci­pled con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans will­ing to take a stand against their own party in the White House. It was a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from New York, Ja­cob Jav­its, who, spurred by a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Jewish fu­ture, helped put to­gether the bi­par­ti­san group that en­sured pas­sage.

Later, when Jav­its trav­eled to Moscow as part of a del­e­ga­tion of U.S. sen­a­tors, he met with a group of Jewish re­fuseniks and asked us whether the pol­icy of link­age truly helped our cause. Although we knew that we were speak­ing di­rectly into KGB lis­ten­ing de­vices, all 14 of us con­firmed that Jack­son’s amend­ment was our only hope.

The Soviet author­i­ties were in­fu­ri­ated by the law and did ev­ery­thing in their power to prove that the Amer­i­cans had made a mis­take. Jewish em­i­gra­tion was vir­tu­ally halted, and the re­pres­sion of Jewish ac­tivists in­creased. In 1977, I was ar­rested and ac­cused of high trea­son, al­legedly as a spy for the CIA; in the in­dict­ment, Jack­son was listed as my main ac­com­plice. Yet far from dis­cour­ag­ing me or dis­cred­it­ing the sen­a­tor, the many men­tions of his name in my sen­tence gave me hope — hope that the free world would not per­mit Soviet dic­ta­tors to con­tinue deny­ing their cit­i­zens ba­sic rights and that in the end our cause would be vic­to­ri­ous.

It was. The amend­ment made the prin­ci­ple of link­age the back­bone of the free world’s re­la­tions with the USSR. The de­cay­ing Soviet econ­omy could not sup­port an arms race or main­tain tol­er­a­ble con­di­tions with­out credit and sup­port from the United States. By con­di­tion­ing this as­sis­tance on the open­ing of the USSR’s gates, the United States would not only help free mil­lions of Soviet Jews as well as hun­dreds of mil­lions of oth­ers but also pave the way for the regime’s even­tual col­lapse.

To­day, an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has once again sought to achieve sta­bil­ity by re­mov­ing sanc­tions against a bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship with­out de­mand­ing that the lat­ter change its be­hav­ior. And once again, a group of out­spo­ken Jews — no longer a small group of dis­si­dents in Moscow but lead­ers of the state of Is­rael, from the gov­ern­ing coali­tion and the op­po­si­tion alike — are sound­ing an alarm. Of course, we are re­luc­tant to crit­i­cize our ally and to so vig­or­ously op­pose an agree­ment that pur­ports to pro­mote peace. But we know that we are again at a his­toric cross­roads, and that the United States can ei­ther ap­pease a crim­i­nal regime — one that sup­ports global terror, re­lent­lessly threat­ens to elim­i­nate Is­rael and ex­e­cutes more po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers than any other per capita— or stand firm in de­mand­ing change in its be­hav­ior.

A crit­i­cal ques­tion is, who, if any­one, will have the vi­sion and courage to be the next Sens. Jack­son and Jav­its.

The writer, a hu­man rights ac­tivist and for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­oner in the Soviet Union, is chair­man of the Jewish Agency for Is­rael.

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