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Mr. Gorbachev - and free emigration

ON Dec. 6, a day before Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to America, the largest demonstration ever of American Jews will take place in Washington, D.C., where they will be joined by religious, political, and civic leaders of varying faiths, races, and ethnicity, all committed to the principle of free emigration and to letting Mr. Gorbachev know that human rights cannot be separated from disarmament necessities. Actually, a hint of change in Soviet policy took place last year in Reykjavik, where at the insistence of the administration the Soviets agreed to include human rights on their bilateral agenda. Jewish hopes were further kindled earlier this year when Secretary of State George Shultz participated in a Passover seder at the American Embassy in Moscow, which was attended by a number of prominent ``refusedniks,'' as well as newspaper and television reporters.

And, indeed, a number of Jews and non-Jews were allowed to leave for America, Europe, and Israel, though many of them were particularly prominent people.

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Paramount in the minds of American Jews today is the knowledge that though some of their co-religionists have left Russia, the total number is far below that of a decade ago and that as many as 250,000 Jews would leave if permitted, including about 25,000 who have taken the first administrative steps, for which many have suffered loss of jobs or harassment by government officials. Happily, their cause and plight are fully supported by American public opinion, the Congress, and particularly the administration. How Gorbachev will react to the Dec. 6 demonstration remains to be seen. Certainly he knows about its planned occurrence, which has been widely reported. And certainly he is aware of how the Russian press has long maligned American Jews for trying to help their religious kinfolk. And more certainly yet, he knows that Soviet violations of human rights cannot be hidden from world attention.

If he doesn't, once here he will quickly learn otherwise - whether from Jews, the Congress, or the press. Only by following the principle of free emigration can Gorbachev add credibility to his calls for peace and arms reduction, and prove that he is truly committed to perestroika, glasnost, and demokratizatsia in basic human rights.

Philip Perlmutter is executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Boston.

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