Release Russian Jewry From Jackson-Vanik

By Tankred Golenpolsky

Published September 19, 2003, issue of September 19, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Nearly three decades ago, Congress made American trade relations with the Soviet Union contingent upon respect for the human rights of Soviet Jews. Since then, more than 1 million Soviet Jews have emigrated, the Soviet Union has fallen, globalization has reshaped the world economy and relations between the Cold War powers have warmed into a strong, if at times contentious, alliance.

Yet when President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet next week at Camp David, the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 will not be on the agenda. The legislation was passed in order to force Moscow to let its Jews go; now its repeal is being blocked in order to force Moscow to let chickens in, among other reasons.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment was a moral piece of legislation, and during its time served a valuable purpose. But we now live in a different world. The Cold War is over, and it is time to the shelve the amendment.

Today Russia is making its first gradual steps toward becoming a democratic state. Of course, countries do not become democratic overnight, and Russia is no exception. Human rights are still a problem here. Freedom of speech is misunderstood, misused or abused. Among the masses, ethnic intolerance is still evident, and that includes anti-Jewish sentiment. And while there is a law against xenophobia, courts are slow or unwilling to try such cases.

To paraphrase the great black American writer James Baldwin, whom I had the pleasure of knowing personally, there is no Jewish problem in Russia — there is a Russian problem, and it is being dealt with.

We in Russia have reached an important stage in fighting antisemitism, and more and more non-Jews are raising their voices against it — from the corridors of power, from the halls of academia, from the stages of entertainment. These voices are speaking out loudly and clearly, and I am proud to say that my newspaper, the only independent Jewish publication in Russia, has played a part in publishing their statements.

Jews today are well represented in local government and in Russia’s parliament, the State Duma. Jews are leaders of influential political parties and hold an outsized presence in the business world. Could anyone have imagined 30 years ago that Russian dignitaries from the president to the mayor of Moscow would send their congratulations to Jews in Russia and abroad each Rosh Hashana?

And yet, the Jackson-Vanik amendment is still alive and kicking — kicking Russian-American relations that, if I am not mistaken, are no longer in a state of cold war; kicking big and small businesses that are no longer owned by the state. A less than charitable observer of the political machinations delaying the repeal of Jackson-Vanik might argue that Congress is actually attempting to suppress budding Russian capitalism — in which, by the way, Jews play a significant part.

What was a moral act during the height of the Cold War is today amoral, because it turns us Russian Jews, one way or another, into hostages of the amendment. Stop and think of the logic for a minute: Today Russian businessmen, many of them Jews, do not enjoy what was once called “most-favored nation” trade status because 30 years ago Jews could not emigrate from a communist state that no longer exists.

To be sure, one can hardly expect businesses to work against their own interests. American chicken exporters have problems with Japan and the European Union, just as they have problems with Russia. Yet they find ways of solving such trade problems through the appropriate channels — such as negotiations or other internationally acknowledged means — and not by reliance on an outdated restriction aimed at guaranteeing human rights.

Former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau once said that “an essential ingredient of politics is timing.” Congress should recognize that Jackson-Vanik’s time has passed. The amendment has served its cause and should be repealed. Today Jackson-Vanik is not only obsolete — it is simply unhealthy for Russian-American relations.

Tankred Golenpolsky is editor and publisher of the International Jewish Gazette, Russia’s only independent Jewish newspaper.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.