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Response to Kennan Cable No. 58: Israeli Reactions in a Soviet Moment

Read Kennan Cable No. 58 here.

To: The Editor- KENNAN CABLE

An article by Prof. Jonathan Dekel-Chen, (“ISRAELI REACTIONS IN A SOVIET MOMENT: REFLECTIONS ON THE 1970 LENINGRAD AFFAIR”), was published in your no. 58 edition (September, 2020).

The article presents the factual reality of the preparation and execution of “Operation Wedding” (an attempt by a group of Jews to flee the USSR) but fails to place this action in its proper historical context by its omission of the connection of the operation with the existing clandestine Jewish activity of the Jews in the USSR in the 1960s.

In the opening of the article, the author writes that the article is based on the film produced by Ms. Anat Kuznetsov. Needless to say, this is an artistic and non-documentary film in which the producer exclusively portrayed the actions of her parents.

As one of the first activists in a Zionist underground in the 1960s, and as a historian, I must testify that underground Jewish activity had existed for many years prior, in fact since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. And all this despite the oppression and terrible persecution of the Soviets! The revival of the State of Israel in 1948 was certainly a huge source of energy for the resurgence of Zionist activity in the USSR.

From the late fifties to the early sixties our movement became a broad national movement.

In 1968-69, Zionist groups operating in various cities in the USSR managed to unite and establish a Central Coordination Committee. I was appointed editor of the movement’s bulletin.

Dr. Dekel-Chen also refers to the activities of the “Nativ” (The Liaison Bureau) in the above years. I must note that the “Nativ” kept in touch with the groups in the USSR, was updated on what was happening, and tried to convey to us information about the State of Israel. Our love for the State of Israel was the fuel and energy that pushed us to act in selfless devotion on Israel’s behalf.

The “Nativ” operated behind the scenes in the West to arouse world and Jewish public opinion about the plight of Jews in the USSR.

It was unreasonable to expect the State of Israel to fight the USSR openly.

The same is true of the firm opposition of the State of Israel to the daring plan of ​​the activists in Leningrad to take a bold and dramatic action: to take control of a Soviet plane.

We, the activists of the Jewish underground in Riga, understood that the State of Israel was in a delicate situation and could not be involved in our act, which would be considered a gross interference in the affairs of another state. It was clear to us that the State of Israel cares about our fate. We were sure that the operation would benefit the Jews of the USSR and the State of Israel.

We thus decided to undertake this action at our own risk, without expecting help from any party. I know that thanks to the wise move of the then Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, the death sentences for Mark Dimshitz and Edward Kuznetsov were rescinded.

Over the years it has become clear that indeed “Operation Wedding” was a major factor in opening the gates of the USSR for Aliyah. But nothing would have succeeded if not for the courageous activity of the members of the Zionist movement within the USSR, of its members who were not arrested, and without the astonishing activity of all of world Jewry.

Yosef Mendelevich

Former Prisoner for Zion

About the Author

Yosef Mendelevich

Yosef Mendelevich is a rabbi and former refusenik and Prisoner of Zion. He was one of the leaders of Operation Wedding.

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