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The Gateway: The Soviet Jewry Movement, the Right to Leave, and the Rise of Human Rights on the International Stage

Hirsch, Jordan Chandler

This thesis explores how the struggle to rescue Jews from the Soviet Union contributed to the rise and recognition of human rights in international affairs. Just as the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948—recognizing the equal and inalienable right to freedom of religion, nationality, and expression—the Soviet Union stripped its 2.5 million Jewish citizens of those very provisions. Even as it denied the basic freedoms of Soviet Jews, the USSR refused to grant their only potential relief, also enshrined in the Universal Declaration: the right to leave one's country. Jewish communal organizations in the United States soon initiated a movement to prevent the disintegration of Soviet Jewry. Wary of endangering their coreligionists by linking them to a broader campaign for freedom in the USSR, the American Jewish political establishment initially shunned reference to human rights, seeking to alleviate their coreligionists' plight by conducting quiet diplomacy on behalf of civil rights. Meanwhile, a cadre of Soviet Jewry academics and human rights activists, operating on the fringe of the Movement, began formulating a legal foundation for the right to leave. This thesis first contends that the establishment political wing of the Movement converged with its scholarly contingent by embracing the 1972 Jackson Amendment, which linked U.S-Soviet trade to free emigration in the USSR. I argue that the establishment embraced the bill—which owed its conceptual inspiration to the body of work produced by Soviet Jewry Movement's intellectuals—as a strategic response to two challenges: increased Soviet Jewish demands for emigration, and an attempt by militant Soviet Jewry activists, preaching violence and ethnic exclusivity, to co-opt the Movement. I then examine how the Soviet Jewry Movement's advocacy for the right to leave subsequently aided the transformation of human rights from rhetoric to reality. This thesis proposes that the right to leave served as a "gateway"—to assuring all other rights and freedoms for Soviet citizens; to legitimizing the notion that the Soviet Union's internal affairs could not claim exemption from international oversight; and, ultimately, to fostering universal acceptance of human rights accords.

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B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2010

Notes

Senior thesis.

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