Secretary of State Henry Kissinger opposed the Jackson-Vanik law linking trade concessions for the Soviet Union with easing restrictions on emigration. The best way to help free Soviet Jewry was to rely on his “silent diplomacy,” he insisted
In fact, he and President Nixon didn’t think it was really a very important matter, even “if (the Soviets) put Jews into gas chambers.” Fortunately, the self-considered world’s two smartest men were wrong. And fortunately, the U.S. Congress wasn’t listening to them and enacted the Jackson-Vanik amendments to the Trade Act of 1974.
In recognition of the success of that law, President Barack Obama on Friday signed H.R. 6156 “graduating” Russia and Moldova from Jackson-Vanik and establishing permanent normal trade relations with the United States in recognition of a 20-year record of allowing unrestricted emigration and improving opportunities for Jews who chose to remain in those countries.
Mark. B. Levin, executive director of NCSJ –originally the National Council for Soviet Jewry – attended the Oval Office signing ceremony and afterward said, “Russia’s record isn’t perfect, but this law recognizes important progress on religious freedom and emigration, and it’s the right thing to do.”
The repeal also marks the 25th anniversary of the 1987 Freedom Sunday rally in Washington that saw a quarter of a million people gather on the National Mall demanding “Let my people go” on the eve of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s White House summit with President Ronald Reagan.
Kissinger and President Richard Nixon considered Jackson-Vanik an unwarranted Congressional intrusion in foreign policy by a bunch of pushy Jews.
That was evident in a taped Oval Office conversation between the two men shortly after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who had asked for U.S. support in pressing the Soviets to ease Jewish emigration.
Nixon wasn’t interested. “(I)f the Jewish community in this country makes Israel exit permits the condition for the Russian initiative, listen, they’re going to be hurting. That will not work,” he said.
Kissinger responded, “Let’s face it. The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. It may be a humanitarian concern.”
Nixon agreed. “I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
Jackson-Vanik passed Congress unanimously shortly after Nixon resigned, and it was signed into law by President Gerald R. Ford on January 3, 1975.