Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has a new and powerful champion in the organized Jewish world. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has called on the American Jewish community and on the government of the United States to pressure Russia on gay and lesbian rights.
Some Democratic politicians welcomed Foxman’s idea. But Jewish communal organizations were more cautious.
Foxman called on Congress to enact a bill that would mimic the legendary Jackson-Vanik amendment created to help Jews in the former Soviet Union, amid a growing controversy over Russia’s recent law banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.”
“Taking bold action for the rights of LGBT communities to live in security and dignity will promote human rights for all,” Foxman wrote in The Huffington Post on August 16. “The Soviet Jewry movement provides both a model and inspiration.”
The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, signed into law by President Gerald Ford, imposed trade sanctions on the Soviet Union over its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. Although the majority of Soviet Jews remained trapped behind the Iron Curtain for almost two more decades, the legislation was seen as a victory because it forced the Soviets to contend with the issue of Jewish emigration if they wanted to develop relations with the United States.
Maryland Senator Ben Cardin and New York Rep. Eliot Engel, both Democrats, told the Forward that they supported Foxman’s call for political action. They said that although legislation on the scale of Jackson-Vanik is impossible today, they would explore political means of pressuring Russia to protect LGBT rights. But the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, seen as foreign policy leaders in the community, although critical of Russian discrimination against the LGBT community, declined to comment on Foxman’s proposal.
Larry Grossman, a spokesman for the AJC, said his organization could not comment on Foxman’s plan because “it’s not something we’ve discussed.” Sharon Bender, a spokeswoman for B’nai B’rith, said, “There are too many unknowns for how this might be accomplished for us to comment.”