48. Memorandum From the President’s Special Counsel (Garment) to President Nixon1


  • Soviet Jews

It seems increasingly likely to me that the only way educated Jews are going to get out of the Soviet Union will be by paying the education tax. Many Jews in the Soviet Union are beginning to assess their situation in the same way, relating it in large part to the success of the Summit and the bilateral stake in commercial arrangements now under negotiation, but also recognizing that pressure from other Russian nationality groups for increased freedom is affected by the Jewish emigration. In the short run (until November) the leaders of the Soviet Jewish émigrés do not want any concession on the issue; they hope that commercial pressures stirred by political protests will force a Soviet backdown.2 After that, my information is they will want help, in whatever form possible.3

My personal view is that the Soviets have an arguable point, in the context of their ideology, in demanding some repayment for the state investment in education. It is the size of the tax, and the obvious inability of Russian Jews to raise large sums of money without outside help that makes the procedure so odious, and justifies the characterization of [Page 177] “ransom.” I understand that some Russian Jews are beginning to panic, to commit economic crimes (black market operations) in order to raise the tax money, and anxiety is expressed about show trials and other repressive moves.

In a conversation with Al Haig a few weeks ago, I suggested that thought be given now to stimulating the creation of some nongovernmental and basically non-Jewish apparatus (perhaps a private Commission) to begin to set the basis for the negotiation of reasonable terms of compensation to the Soviets, and then to undertake to raise the funds, preferably from nongovernmental sources. The idea was generated by comments at a private meeting of the USIA Advisory Commission (Stanton[Hobe Lewis, John Shaheen, James Michener),4 all of whom argued that such a procedure was feasible and even desirable. Herb Stein, in a private conversation, expressed similar sentiments, as did Jack Javits, who talked generally along these lines when I spoke to him last Friday (a memorandum of my conversation with Javits is attached).5 Arthur Burns has suggested that some part of the Soviet Lend-Lease debt might be utilized as a source of funding for the education tax.

In the short run there will be a great deal of generalizing about the inhumanity of the Soviet decree—and justifiably so. But we are confronted with escalating political pressure involving potential barriers to important U.S.-Soviet agreements and we must therefore start to deal with the reality of the Soviet situation. If our information is that they’re not going to back down, and if we are to do what is humane and practical, something more substantive than a speech in the UN, a handholding conference with Jewish leaders, or a démarche to Dobrynin will be needed, and fairly soon. The objective at this point should be, quite simply, to develop some realistic modus operandi which will enable the Jews to emigrate and the Soviets to save face.

Whatever is done should be organized informally, and quietly set in motion before the election. I think some of the people I’ve mentioned above would be prepared to help organize that effort. I emphasize that the approach should involve a serious and businesslike negotiation, addressed fundamentally to the question of reasonable terms, and based on the premise that there is legitimacy to the Soviet demand for some capital compensation from trained people who decide to leave the country and renounce their citizenship. The major hurdle, at the outset, would be the current Jewish position of opposition to any pay[Page 178]ment, but there is a reasonable chance, I think, that this can be altered by discussions with responsible Jewish leadership here and abroad.

Leonard Garment6
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 721, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Vol. XXVI. No classification marking. Sent via Haldeman. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum indicates the President saw it. In a September 20 covering memorandum to Haldeman, Garment wrote: “I discussed this subject with Henry Kissinger, gave him a draft, and am sending him a copy of the attached memorandum to the President. He said I could cite his general concurrence.”
  2. In a memorandum to Garment, September 5, Seattle lawyer and principal legal assistant to the Attorney General of Israel, Leonard W. Schroeter, reported on a trip to the Soviet Union, where he spoke with leaders of the Jewish community in Moscow, Leningrad, Riga, and Minsk. He wrote: “The Soviet Jewish leaders believe that the only hope of rescinding the tax is if, prior to the American elections, massive political and economic pressure can be mounted in the West. If this does not occur, they consider the chances of rescission remote. Thus, they give us a period of less than two months to accomplish the goal of securing rescission of the ukase.” Garment forwarded Schroeter’s memorandum to Nixon as an attachment to his own memorandum, undated, regarding Nixon’s upcoming meeting with Max Fisher, September 26. (Ibid., President’s Office Files, Box 90, Memoranda for the President, Beginning September 24, 1972)
  3. Schroeter wrote in his September 5 memorandum to Garment that Soviet Jewish leaders “also advise us, with the strong request that this not become known to the Soviet Union, that if this goal [rescission] is not accomplished within the next two months, it will be essential to physically save them—to raise the sums of money involved. This is due to their assessment of the gravity of the situation and the extreme danger facing Jews in the Soviet Union.”
  4. Frank Stanton, former President of Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); Hobe Lewis, President of Reader’s Digest; John Shaheen, President of Macmillan Ring-Free Oil Company; James Michener, author.
  5. A memorandum of Garment’s conversation with Senator Javits is not attached.
  6. Garment signed “Len” above this typed signature.