JERUSALEM — Israel's reaction to the Soviet call for negotiations on establishing bilateral consular relations will determine the fate of the worldwide effort to free Soviet Jewry. The success of that struggle is dependent on an uncompromising public Israeli position linking any progress on other issues--indeed, any willingness to negotiate other issues--to the release of 400,000 Soviet Jews who have indicated a desire to emigrate to Israel.
The wide-scale aliya , immigration to Israel, of Soviet Jews began after 1967, when no diplomatic relations existed between Israel and the Soviet Union. The severing of diplomatic relations did not set in motion the process; both mass emigration and the break in relations did result, however, from the expression of Jewish national identity embodied in Israel's victory in the Six-Day War.
Pressure was exerted on the Soviet Union by Western governments, especially by the United States. This pressure was not limited to trade matters; it became a cornerstone of U.S. policy in negotiating with the Soviet leadership.
Repression of the individual is a fundamental principle of a Soviet system that sees the value of man as nothing more than an insignificant cog in a huge machine. This principle is protected by law--a law designed to guard a system that decides what the individual must read, must do--what his feelings should be.
This fundamental principle was seriously challenged by the demand of Soviet Jews to decide for themselves whether to live in the Soviet Union or to leave.
The fact that for a short time the Soviet government was willing to allow Jewish emigration, in spite of the threat it posed to the regime, was not the result of a decision to improve the Soviet public image. Today, as then, the Soviets will not tolerate free emigration unless forced to do so. The Soviet Union will move significantly only if it perceives the status quo to be more dangerous.
The Soviet economy is stagnating, and the current Russian leadership is more conscious of the dangers of stagnation than any of its predecessors. Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev's public warning that the Soviet Union will lose its economic and strategic race with the United States if progress is not made is unparalleled. We who were brought up in the Soviet Union were taught that the victory of socialism was inevitable.
The Soviet Union must reach out to the West to expand its technology and trade. The West has made clear a willingness to cooperate with the Soviets in this endeavor. The only question left outstanding is the price the Soviets will have to pay.
In the West, two approaches compete with each other in regard to dealing with Soviet repression of Jews.
The first approach is to strengthen cultural and economic ties in the hope that such ties will lead to greater Soviet flexibility on human rights issues. This hope is based on a naivete that ignores the real danger the Soviet system sees in freedom of emigration.
The second approach demands that any concessions to the Soviet Union be linked to progress on human rights.
The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1970s U.S.-Soviet trade agreement established the principle of linkage, tying increased trade to emigration. Testimony to the importance of linkage as a weapon against Soviet repression is provided by the constant Soviet machinations to undermine that linkage.
Each of these two approaches--granting concessions unconditionally in the hope of engendering reciprocity and linkage, making concessions conditional on real changes in Soviet policy--has champions in the West. In Bern, Switzerland, a few months ago, Western European countries proposed a resolution that would have excluded Soviet Jews wishing to reunite with their families in Israel from the human-rights clause of the Helsinki Accords. Only American opposition defeated this proposal.
Many Western leaders remain convinced that the principle of linkage must be maintained. This feeling is reinforced by the conviction that trust must be based on the fulfillment of previous obligations, obligations that include improved Soviet policy on human rights.
A new conference of the 35 signatories of the Helsinki accords will be convened in Vienna this fall. Later this year an American-Soviet summit will probably take place in Washington. Which approach will prevail?
To a large extent, the answer lies with Israel.
At this decisive moment in East-West relations, the leadership of the Soviet Union has recalled that it has church property in the Holy Land and has proposed an exchange of consular delegations. Preliminary talks on this subject are to begin Monday.
What will be Israel's reaction? Will Israel link relations to free emigration of all Soviet Jews, or will it adopt the other approach--moving first toward normal relations in the naive hope that this will create conditions for a solution to the problem of Soviet Jewry?