THE BOOK THAT
elections, a condensed version of A Matter of Priorities appeared as a series in the weekend editions of Novesti Nudeli, one of the leading Russian-language newspapers in Israel. The editors reported a "flood" of telephone calls about the serialization, "nearly all of them sympathetic."
The Martin-Herzl book received a strong boost when it was publicly praised by Dr. Victor Polsky, one of the most prominent Soviet Jewry "refuseniks" of the early 1970s and still a widely-respected figure among Russian Jews in Israel. "This book explodes the myth that Labor Party politicians and functionaries were the ones who led the struggle for Soviet Jewish freedom," Dr. Polsky said. "As this book shows, the truth is that Soviet Jews won their fight not because of the efforts of the Labor Party establishment but rather despite the establishment's apathy and even resistance."
One of the reasons Polsky's endorsement of the book has made an impression among Russian Jewish voters is that he recently served as the Labor government's First Secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Beloruss. In other words, he risked possible political repercussions in order to speak his mind about a troubling chapter in the history of Soviet Jewry. Russian voters respected his courage.
According to Dr. Polsky, "The [Soviet Jewish] immigrants who came to Israel with the last wave, in the 1990s, are generally unaware of the history of the battle for emigration from the Soviet Union. This book will perform a particularly valuable service by helping to make the new immigrants aware of this extraordinary chapter in Jewish history."
New Russian immigrant voters who heard for the first time about this unsettling episode in their history, found it jarring to read of Labor Zionism's forefather, David Ben-Gurion, writing in his diary in 1923, after a visit to the USSR, that the Zionist movement "must cease all attacks and provocations against the Soviet government" lest they harm "the great revolution in Russia." A deep admiration for the Soviet regime persisted among Labor Zionist leaders for many decades to follow, Martin and Herzl show.
A Matter of Priorities relates the sad experiences of "Magen," a small Soviet Jewry group that was active in Eretz Yisrael beginning in the 1930s. "Magen" repeatedly urged the Labor Zionist leaders to speak out for Soviet Jewry, but were consistently rebuffed. When Israel was preparing to send Golda Meir as its first ambassador to the Soviet Union, in 1948, "Magen" pleaded with the Labor government to instruct her to raise the plight of Soviet Jewry with her Soviet counterparts. The government refused, insisting that the Soviet Jewry issue was "an internal Soviet affair" in which Israel had no right to intervene.
Martin and Herzl quote some fascinating correspondence from members of the Israeli diplomatic corps in the USSR during the 1950s and 1960s. The one
Outpost - 8 - September 1996