Soviet Foreign Policy Toward
the United States and Israel
in the Gorbachev Era:
Jewish Emigration and Middle East Politics
Robert Owen Freedman
One of the central academic debates that emerged in the early and mid- 1980s about Soviet Jewish emigration policy concerned the primary reason that the Soviet government allowed large numbers of Soviet Jews to emigrate in the 1970s. One school of thought, to which I subscribe, asserts that the primary reason the Soviet government agreed to the sharp increase in Jewish emigration (see Table 3.1) was because of foreign policy considerations. 1 Specifically, in the peak years ( 1971-73 and 1978-79), three central considerations appeared to have motivated Soviet policy: the desire for strategic arms agreements; the desire for trade and technology benefits from the United States; and the desire to avert a Sino-American alignment against the U.S.S.R.
Another school of thought asserts that the primary motivation for the emigration decision was domestic, citing such issues as Moscow's need for highly educated workers, elite and institutional politics, nationality policy, and the role of Jews in Soviet society as reasons why Moscow would severely curtail emigration. 2 The second school of thought, which emerged after the first, was also critical of it. However, instead of looking at the three primary foreign policy issues together, the critiques tended to use single factor analysis; for example, linking trade statistics and emigration figures to demonstrate that there was not an exact correlation. Rather than rehashing the debate, however, it would appear to be more useful to examine the third period of high emigration ( 1987-1991) to offer another test case to determine which of the two schools is closer to the truth.
Prior to doing so, however, the two leading critics of the foreign policy argument will be cited, since on the basis of their previous studies, in which