From the Desk of the (UCSJ) President–
I thought of the old ILGWU fight song while recently meeting with the directors of the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL division) in Washington DC to discuss how to counter the new Russian Extremism law which has targeted religions that don’t conform with the Russian Orthodox Church or standard Muslim teachings. We were with representatives of the Baptists, Catholics, Falun Gang, the Scientologists, the atheists, Jehovah Witnesses, Hindus, and other human rights activists. We’re all part of an International Religious Freedom Round Table (IRF) which informally works together to fight for religious freedom. We support each other all around the world.
It made me think of the Union of Councils purpose, the UNION LABEL. In the 70s and the 80s we represented the Refusenik movement in the USSR and did not ignore the human rights activists such as Scharansky and Sacharov who were abandoned by the Jewish establishment. We recognized that anti-Semitism, religious discrimination and xenophobia were interconnected with abuse of human rights and the absence of the rule of law. This is what led us in the 1990s to form human rights organizations in the various parts of the former Soviet Union creating the Moscow Helsinki Group with Ludmilla Alexeeva and other such NGOs. Today we consider ourselves the unofficial representative of 55+ NGOs in the FSU.
What was most notable of the meeting with DRL was that we were the only Jewish organization at the table. The lawyer for the Human Rights Law Foundation representing the Fulan Gang in their struggle in China and Russia said to me that she was so proud that a Jewish organization was at the table. She remarked that all the human rights lawyers she runs into are Jewish. She thinks its part of our genetic nature to support these issues. I told her that it was the UNION LABEL. We pride ourselves on recognizing the interconnection between all forms of discrimination and the abuse of human rights.
The DRL division is prepared to act on the abuses of the new Russian Extremism Law and will be engaged with their Russian counterparts to prevent future abuses. Its good to know we have friends in the human rights community and at the State Department. We at the UCSJ have taken on a mini-grant with the MHG to teach tolerance to college age youth in Russia with funding from the USAID and are hoping for even larger grants from the US government to push forward our fight against religious discrimination, xenophobia, and abuse of human rights and to further the Rule of law.