THE contrast between weekend human rights demonstrations in Moscow and in Washington is a reminder that the flame of freedom will not be snuffed out by repression. In the American capital, an estimated 200,000 people from around the United States, Canada, and elsewhere - in large part from Jewish organizations, but including representatives from non-Jewish groups such as the National Council of Churches - marched down Constitution Avenue. At one point they joined together to sing ``God Bless America'' and ``Hatikva,'' the Israeli national anthem. ``It would be easier, safer, more diplomatic to remain silent - to negotiate our treaties and never raise the question of human rights,'' Vice-President George Bush told the crowd. ``But,'' he added, ``that would be untrue to ourselves, and it would break our promise to the past.''
Meantime in Moscow, a small group of Jewish refusedniks, Soviet citizens denied exit permits, was roughed up by Soviet police; many demonstrators were taken into custody. Nearby, an official antiwar rally, apparently put together by Soviet authorities, sought to drown out the cries of the human rights demonstrators.
Moscow should know the world was not fooled.
Progress on the arms front, needed as it is, will not drown out legitimate aspirations for stepped-up human rights in the Soviet Union, including the right to emigrate. Between October 1968 and the summer of 1985, more than 250,000 people left the Soviet Union with Israeli passports, well over half of that number going to Israel. Thousands of others, including Armenians and Germans, have left for Western lands.
Thousands more - Jews, non-Jews - want to leave. Since the early 1980s, Soviet emigration has fallen off sharply.
The Soviet Union likes to remind the world community that it is a ``superpower.'' True superpowers are not afraid to let their people go.