138. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) to Secretary of State Rogers1

Oral Statement to Soviet Ambassador on Soviet Jewry

Your memorandum of January 29 to the President (Tab E)2 on preventing anti-Soviet incidents mentioned our intention to have a senior officer of the Department give Ambassador Dobrynin an oral statement on the relevance to U.S.-Soviet relations of the plight of Soviet Jewry.

We think it would be propitious to make this statement now because the Soviets, by permitting the departure of Leonid Rigerman and his mother,3 have implicitly recognized that such humanitarian issues have a legitimate place within the broader context of Soviet-American relations.

At the same time, the World Conference of Jewish Communities on Soviet Jewry, which just met in Brussels, underlined the fact that concern about the plight of Soviet Jewry is not confined to the United States and Israel. Moreover, the exclusion of Rabbi Kahane from the Conference shows that the overwhelming majority of Jewish organizations reject the violence associated with his Jewish Defense League. The Soviet Government showed great sensitivity to the Brussels Conference and the fact that the US Government played no role in it may help to establish our bona fides in this matter.

Embassy Moscow has just reported that since the Brussels Conference the Soviet authorities have begun issuing exit visas to an unprecedentedly high number of Soviet Jewish emigrants to Israel—60 to 100 per day (Tab D).4 This vastly increased flow of emigrants will naturally become public knowledge very soon and Rabbi Kahane, among others, will no doubt attempt to claim credit for this welcome development. He might well do so in connection with the rally he has scheduled in Washington for March 21. It would be very helpful if the Department were in a position to undercut such a claim by pointing to a recent act of intercession at a high level with the Soviet authorities. Otherwise, Kahane might succeed in attracting additional adherents for his policy of harassing Soviet officials.

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The statement attached at Tab A5 has been prepared for your possible use. The text conforms closely to that in your memorandum to the President.

Such a statement would underline our continuing concern and our intention to follow up on conversations which the President and you had with Rabbi Schachter, Dr. William Wexler, and Mr. Max Fisher.6

We would not plan to release the text of the statement, at least initially. However, appropriate reference could be made to its general theme by the Department in its discussions with concerned Americans and in our public and Congressional correspondence as an indication of our continued interest in this subject.

Ambassador Dobrynin will probably try to parry your expression of interest in the fate of Soviet Jews by insisting that their status is entirely an internal affair. He may also attempt a counter-thrust by alleging that the U.S. Government is not adequately protecting Soviet officials and exchange visitors from the indignities imposed on them by local “Zionists.” In addition, Dobrynin may try to gain a debating advantage by complaining about your meeting on February 23 with Leonid Rigerman.7

A recent exchange of remarks in the British House of Commons on the subject of the Soviet Jews is attached at Tab C.8 The essential point in Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s response was that, although this matter concerned the internal affairs of the Soviet Union, the policies being pursued by the Soviet Government damage its reputation in the outside world. You may wish to take note of the British Foreign Secretary’s views in your conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin. You may also wish to use some of the additional talking points at Tab B.9


That Ambassador Dobrynin be called in soon to receive this statement.10

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Killham and cleared by Atherton.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 112.
  4. Attached at Tab D is telegram 1528 from Moscow, March 13.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. See Document 82.
  7. See Document 125.
  8. Attached but not printed.
  9. Attached but not printed.
  10. Rogers initialed the disapprove option on March 18 and wrote in the margin: “not timely in view of increased emigration. Our efforts previously made seem to have succeeded to some extent.”