Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's implied promises that thousands of Jews soon will be allowed to leave the Soviet Union are "blandishments and soft soap" intended to cover up an increasingly repressive policy on Jewish emigration, an American Jewish representative charged yesterday.
Morris B. Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, offered that description only three months after he returned from talks with Soviet officials in Moscow predicting that Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness, would lead to dramatic increases in emigration and cultural and religious freedom for Soviet Jews.
"I must conclude that glasnost as far as the Jewish population is concerned at best doesn't exist and at worst is a fraud," Abram said after a meeting with Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
He charged that the Soviets, while trying to project a favorable public image in the West by permitting some short-term increases in emigration, have ordered their emigration offices to stop accepting new applications from Jews who want to leave.
He said that although Jewish emigration increased significantly during the first six months of this year, it still is running at only one-seventh the rate of the peak emigration year of 1979 when 51,320 Jews left the Soviet Union. Although 3,092 Jews have emigrated so far this year, Abram said, that is "a long way from the Soviet-inspired speculation that 11,000 would leave by the end of the year."
His comment about "Soviet-inspired speculation" referred to predictions made by him and Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, after they visited Moscow last March.
When they returned, Abram said that while no specific promises were made, he and Bronfman "believed we were reassured" that the Soviets would permit resumption of large-scale emigration, which ended in 1980.
Abrams said in March that he had the impression that all the estimated 11,000 long-term "refuseniks," whose previous applications to leave had been rejected, would be allowed to leave within the year. He also said the Soviets had given what seemed like unmistakable hints of new large-scale emigration to Israel on direct flights via the Soviets' East-bloc ally, Romania, and far greater religious and cultural freedoms for those who remained.
But, Abrams said yesterday, more recent events had forced him to conclude that "Mr. Gorbachev is very hard at work trying to deceive the American people and the Jewish people with all kinds of blandishments and soft soap while actually pursuing policies that are worse" than the most repressive policies practiced by the Soviets earlier in the decade.
He said that by allowing some increases in emigration and including some refuseniks whose cases had been highly publicized in the West, the Soviets are "engaging in a public relations exercise that masks the reality of what is happening."
Specifically, Abram said, he believes that the Soviets will continue this tactic until the list of "spectacular refusenik cases" is reduced considerably.
But the Soviets, by refusing to accept new exit permit applications and imposing tioghter requirements on applicants, appear intent on pressuring "the great majority of Soviet Jews to give up their hopes of leaving and accept their fate as typical cookie-cutter Soviet men and women rather than as people with their own religious and cultural identity."
Abram gave Shultz a report summarizing his organization's assessment of the situation and urged the secretary to keep raising the issue of Jewish emigration and rights in all U.S. contacts with Soviet officials.
He said Shultz had reassured him that the administration remains committed to insisting that satisfactory resolutions of these questions are a requirement for improving U.S.-Soviet relations. Abram said Shultz had asked him to summarize the conference's concerns so that he can raise them in future contacts, such as a possible meeting later this summer with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.