4. Developments and Divisions
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177 4 Developments and Divisions A powerful eruption of consolidating energy accompanied the process of transforming Jewish national identification into a positive attribute. Indeed, the difficult conditions under which Jewish activists worked created a need for unity. There were, however, causes for disagreements . These derived partly from the nature of a social movement (which faced issues of tactics and strategy, differing modes of activity, leadership struggles, personal clashes, and so forth) and partly from the complex situation of refusal. The KGB made arbitrary decisions regarding refuseniks, trapping certain categories of citizens and specific individuals inside the Iron Curtain and slowing down emigration as a whole. It seemed that by making the refuseniks’ life as bitter as possible, the KGB hoped to intimidate others who were contemplating emigration. As we have already seen, refuseniks adopted a variety of approaches to strategic and ideological issues. For example, the issue of cooperation with (democratic) rights activists evoked many disputes in Jewish activist circles. The majority of Jewish activists considered that the Jews had already spilled enough of their blood on alien fields and altars in return for which they had received stark ingratitude and renewed anti-Semitism. This generation of Jewish activists regarded the revival of national independence after two millennia of dispersion as a divine gift. Refuseniks perceived a genuine opportunity finally to break the chain of endless persecutions and to take Jewish fate in our own hands. The struggle for aliya to Israel, Hebrew instruction, the study of the Jewish nation’s history and culture, a Zionist education, and a link with Jewry in Israel and the West facilitated the realization of this noble goal. While aware of the limited forces of the movement, Jewish activists felt that only Zionists could carry 178  |  “We Are Jews Again” out these tasks. At the same time, the ranks of the democratic rights activists seemed to be much greater than those of Zionists and included a significant number of Jews. The desire of participants in the Jewish movement to focus on specific problems did not exclude contacts with the democrats and mutual aid on certain issues. It is worth noting that the authorities treated the general rights activists more harshly than they treated the activists in the Jewish movement. They were particularly nervous about members of the Jewish movement who established coordination between the two movements or took part in both, as the arrest of Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky and other events showed. The Politiki and the Kulturniki Another disagreement within the movement emerged into the open at the time of an official visit by US senators, headed by former vice president Hubert Humphrey in June 1975. The group that arrived in Moscow included also Jacob Javits, Patrick Leahy, Abe Ribicoff, and Charles Percy. The senators expressed a desire to meet refuseniks, and Natan Sharansky arranged the meeting. Whereas one group, consisting of Alexander Lerner, Vladimir Slepak, Vitaly Rubin, Alexander Lunts, Ida Nudel, Dina Beilin, Lev Ovsishcher, and Veniamin Levich, intended to talk to the senators about emigration, another group of refuseniks, including Vladimir Prestin, Pavel Abramovich, and Ilia Essas, demanded a separate meeting to speak about the situation of Jewish culture in the USSR. The rivalry between the activist groups led to a near diplomatic scandal that Sharansky managed to avert. From that time, however, Prestin’s group acquired the label kulturniki (the cultural wing of the Jewish movement), and the Lerner-Lunts group members were the politiki (the political wing of the Jewish movement).1 In fact, the division of activists into kulturniki and politiki was arbitrary . Both groups actively participated in the struggle to emigrate and in the attempt to revive Jewish culture. Nevertheless, the terms stuck. They possessed a certain validity that found expression both in the emphasis of the activity and in the ideological tendencies of these two influential groups. Developments and Divisions  |  179 Professor Alexander Lerner, Dr. Alexander Lunts, and Vladimir Slepak, who headed the politiki, asserted that the basis of the Zionist movement in the USSR was the struggle to emigrate. Lerner recalled, “I headed the segment of the movement that considered one must first escape from the Soviet Union to Israel and one could master Jewish culture there. Each would absorb as much of it as he or she could.”2 The politiki did not think it was possible to achieve significant results in disseminating Jewish culture in conditions of a hostile totalitarian environment. Moreover, in their opinion, cultural activity would divert forces from the struggle for...


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