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Soviet Sister City Proposal Keyed to Human Rights

August 13, 1987|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — This city will establish a relationship with a town in the Soviet Union only if human rights issues are "on the top of the agenda," a City Council committee agreed this week following pleas from Jewish leaders.

Councilman Edd Tuttle invited Jewish Defense League activist Irv Rubin to join the Long Beach delegation which will visit Sochi in the Soviet Union if the sister city program is approved. Rubin responded: "That would be an honor--if the Soviet Union would let me in."

Rubin argued before the council legislative committee Tuesday for an "open and frank exchange of communication." And that, he continued, cannot be done in Sochi, a resort town on the Black Sea. Instead, Rubin said, Long Beach should have an exchange program with a city such as Bendery, where well-known refusenik Ida Nudel was ordered to internal exile.

While some in the audience supported the proposal, others joined Rubin in arguing against a sister city in the Soviet Union--a proposal which the committee forwarded to the City Council for its approval next Tuesday.

"Since when should the City of Long Beach start making a foreign policy? Don't we have a State Department?" resident Stanford Kahn asked.

As part of their recommendation, committee members Tuttle, Evan Anderson Braude and Clarence Smith also are forwarding the stipulation that human rights issues be part of the discussions with the local sister city committee to be formed and the two countries' delegations. Committee members will ask their colleagues on the council to make that stipulation clear as part of its resolution.

Representatives from the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County said after the meeting that they were satisfied with the proposal, as long as human rights, free emigration and "cultural and religious rights for all Soviet citizens" are discussed between the two cities.

"The issue of Soviet Jewry is at the very core of Jewish survival in the 20th Century." Myrna Simon, chairwoman of the federation's Soviet Jewry task force, explained to the legislative committee.

Those supporting the program--involving cultural, educational and trade exchanges--included representatives of the Gray Panthers and the International Children's Choir.

Local resident Eugene Kovalenko demonstrated his support with a Russian song, which he said "opens doors like magic" when he sings it in the Soviet Union. It's only through such exchanges that the two countries can come closer together, the engineering manager for an aerospace firm explained.

Kovalenko was not as convincing before the Costa Mesa City Council last month. That Orange County city--facing protesters with signs that read "Communism Kills" and "Keep KGB Puppets Out of Costa Mesa"--turned down a program with the Soviet city of Melitopol.

After the committee meeting Tuesday, Kovalenko and Rubin engaged in a short debate outside the council chambers.

"You sang beautifully," Rubin told Kovalenko. But, he added, music alone cannot bring change. "From what you're saying, the bottom line is that if I could sing as well as you, I could reform the Soviets."

"Any time we get the chance to really communicate as human beings," that opportunity should be taken, Kovalenko retorted. Otherwise, he said, distrust between the two nations will continue and "the blood will be on our hands."

In a meeting with Rubin after Tuesday's meeting, Tuttle again invited him to form part of the Long Beach delegation to visit Sochi. Rubin said that if the Soviet Union allowed him an entry visa and the chance to talk with Soviet Jews, he would consider it "more gratifying than anything I've done."

Laughing, Rubin added, "It would be tremendous shtick" arriving in the Soviet Union, and--like Moses--ordering, "Let my people go."

Tuttle said the sister city program is designed to be apolitical, but he agreed with Braude that "everything we do is political."

If Long Beach adopts Sochi as a sister city, it will become the 12th in the nation to have such a relationship with a Soviet Union city, according to Ethelda Singer, vice president of Sister Cities International in its West Coast office. The federally-funded program that was created 31 years ago has more than 800 cities in the United States affiliated with some 1,200 cities in 87 countries, Singer said.

Long Beach already has sister cities in four countries: Chile, Japan, South Korea and the People's Republic of China.

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