Academic journal article Shofar

Before Soviet Jewry's Happy Ending: The Cold War and America's Long Debate over Jackson-Vanik, 1976-1989

Academic journal article Shofar

Before Soviet Jewry's Happy Ending: The Cold War and America's Long Debate over Jackson-Vanik, 1976-1989

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In both popular media and in mainstream academic scholarship, the Jackson-Vanik amendment-which linked Soviet-American trade relations to the question of Soviet Jewish emigration-is portrayed as a largely successful effort to facilitate Jewish emigration. This article sheds light on a revisionist perspective, focusing on the debates over the amendment's effectiveness that took place between the amendment's passage in Congress and the USSR's final years. The research shows that the decline in emigration during the mid-1970s and the early 1980s led many Americans-including politicians, journalists, and Jewish leaders-to question the effectiveness of Jackson-Vanik's hardline approach. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, some called for the suspending the amendment or for granting the USSR a one-year waiver from Jackson-Vanik as a gesture of goodwill, but moderate voices were drowned out by Jewish activists who valued principle over pragmatism. Particular attention is paid to an alleged "missed opportunity" in 1979, a year when Soviet leaders boosted emigration and attempted to reach out to compromise with American Jewish leaders. Overall, this article argues that a more nuanced portrayed of the amendment's legacy is required in light of the source material that it presents.

When the Jackson-Vanik amendment was finally repealed in December 2012, Jewish groups around the country, though generally noting the time for its repeal was long overdue, portrayed the historic legacy of the bill in positive, almost mythological terms.1 Decades after the fall of the Soviet Union and the emigration of over a million Jews, the American Jewish community typically recalls the amendment as a moment of triumph.2 Proponents characterized the passage of the amendment as a proud moment in American history, an instance when the United States Congress had the courage to advocate for a more moral foreign policy, one that stood up for repressed and defenseless Soviet Jews.3 Others lauded the amendment for its role in confronting the Soviet Union, and some even argued that the Jackson-Vanik amendment helped bring down the Soviet Union by deny- ing it economic benefits.4 Lastly, the amendment is portrayed-even in respected scholarly works5-as having helped the people who needed it most, the Jews of the Soviet Union.6

While the campaign for the Jackson-Vanik amendment certainly brought greater attention to the cause of Soviet Jewish emigration, its legacy at different historical moments was far more complicated than many people today remember. With the exception of several years during the late 1970s, Soviet Jewish emigration underwent a steep decline in both the mid-1970s and the bulk of the 1980s.7 Those who lauded the "long-term success" of the amendment-success largely intertwined with the decline of the Soviet Union-forget that there may have been a large opportunity cost, as alternatives to the confrontational amendment may have led to the release of event greater numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.8 Whether one could categorize Jackson-Vanik as a success or failure depended on when and who was writing. During dips in emigration, some argued that Jackson-Vanik backfired, or claimed that there was a missed opportunity to increase Soviet Jewish emigration, while others were unyielding in their insistence that Jackson-Vanik worked no matter what current realities were.

This paper will explore how debates of the effectiveness and legacy of the Jackson-Vanik amendment varied throughout time-and how changing views on its utility were used to support different policy positions. During the initial dip in emigration following the amendment's passage in 1975, groups largely interpreted the events as they wanted to-as supporters saw Jackson's efforts as a valiant effort rather than a failure. When emigration rose in 1978-1979, those who seriously considered softening Jackson-Vanik or granting the USSR a one-year waiver-such as the American Jewish Congress, amendment cosponsor Representative Charles Vanik, and Senator Adlai Stevenson III-were in the minority. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.