Review of new book on Soviet Jewry movement, "Let My People Go"

         It's easier to say what "Let My People Go" is not than exactly what it is.  It's not a page-turning narrative of the Soviet Jewry movement from both within the USSR and in the West, such as Gal Beckerman's "When They Come For US We'll Be Gone" or Phil Spiegel's "Triumph Over Tyranny".  It's not a first-person replay of the grassroots American Soviet Jewry movement, like Rabbi Avi Weiss' "Open Up The Iron Door". 
        "Let My People Go" is largely a serious attempt to analyze the Israeli government's secret attempt via its Liason Bureau (a/k/a, Nativ, the Lishka or "office without a name") to push for the formation in the early 1960s of an American Jewish Establishment umbrella structure to fight for the rights of Jews to emigrate to Israel, and to influence the policies of this new creation for the next 25 years.  In the process, the book tracks the differing approaches of the Establishment (American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and its successor National Conference on Soviet Jewry) and independent Soviet Jewry organizations such as the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, who were formed without any Israeli intervention.  The author, Pauline Peretz, details the five-part moving but interlocking tango of the American Soviet Jewry movement, Congress, White House, the Soviet and Israeli governments from 1964 to 1991. 
           You can tell the book is really serious:  long, unbroken paragraphs, no photos, and a price for this 365-page book twice that for a general-interest tome.  There's also a list of directors and emissaries of the Lishka, a graph of Soviet Jewish emigration from 1954 through 1993, the text of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,  graphs of "dropouts" and US-USSR trade, a bibliography, a timeline, a list of acronyms, and an index of personal names.
            Peretz's work emerged first as her PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne (in fact, her book is smoothly translated from the French).  Invaluably, she pulls together a very large number of secondary sources (e.g., books and articles), supported by information distilled from interviews of a fair number of the players conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  But she was hobbled by the limited amount of archival information she could obtain at that time from the Lishka, and from Establishment and UCSJ documents which were in the process of being archived.  The book was published in 2015, but the author apparently wasn't in a position to do much new research as more archives opened.
            Peretz controversially asserts that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment -- the legislative high point of the American movement which linked US-USSR trade and credits to freer emigration -- was largely a failure, though in the book's conclusion she softens that blow a bit.  By her metrics, after the Amendment was passed by Congress in 1974 and signed into law by President Ford in 1975 within a larger trade bill, the Kremlin cut Jewish emigration, and American-Russian trade actually increased. 
             But Soviet Jewry activists both in the US and USSR would vehemently argue otherwise.  They'd point to the public and private debates over the Amendment, before and after its adoption,  which projected the plight of Russian Jews to the highest level of American-Soviet relations, that it greatly focused the efforts of the American movement, and gave immense comfort to brave refuseniks inside the USSR that their desperation was being acknowledged as a matter of American governmental policy.  The pressure created by denying the Kremlin needed American trade credits, and the moral pressure of the 1975 Helsinki Agreement's third section on human rights such as emigration, helped open the iron doors and grease the skids of the Soviet Union to dissolution at the end of 1991. 
            "Let My People Go" suffers from some sloppy research.  Just a few examples:  Dr. Louis Rosenblum, a seminal non-Establishment figure, is termed a psychologist when he was actually a NASA engineer.  The December 1971 Freedom Lights for Soviet Jewry rally in Madison Square Garden is termed an Establishment effort, when in fact it was organized by a band of grassroots activists affiliated with SSSJ.  Similarly, the author terms the Medical Mobilization for Soviet Jewry an NCSJ effort, when it was in fact a UCSJ creation.  She doesn't mention that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was canceled by Congress in 2012.  In discussing the heated controversy over "noshrim", Soviet Jews using exit visas to Israel but headed to the US, she gives the UCSJ's position of supporting the "dropouts" as a matter of freedom of choice, but doesn't explain that the SSSJ tried to stay out of the fray because it sucked the air out of the continued battle for Russian Jewish emigration.  Unless these and the other mistakes are corrected, the book cannot be considered the definitive work in this niche of Soviet Jewry movement history.
            A detailed index in the back of a scholarly book as this would have been invaluable, but it's limited only to personal names.  Peretz has virtually no discussion about a critically important aspect of the movement -- sending and briefing tourists to the USSR to smuggle back information, documents, appeals, and to bring in material aid and Jewish items that sustained refuseniks and families of Prisoners for Zion.  The Lishka sent some 6000 Jewishly and zionistically-motivated tourists from 1969 - 1989; the Establishment, USCJ, and SSSJ briefed hundreds of tourists and paid the fares for some.  Chabad-Lubavitch and Agudath Israel also sent in intrepid emissaries. 
            What's the bottom line?  "Let My People Go" could be a valuable addition to the relatively small but growing body of work about the Soviet Jewry movement.   But unless the mistakes are corrected or at least an errata sheet be included with each copy, the book cannot be considered a definitive work in this niche of Soviet Jewry movement history.  I urgently hope that Pauline Peretz can issue a second edition of the book, correcting errors and incorporating the new information available in the decade since she conducted her initial research.
        Following are some of the errors I've caught --

p. 4 - “Jackson-Vanik Amendment has never been repealed”. Book was published in 2015. JV repealed in 12/2012.

p. 50 - “In 1952, ten Jewish writers were executed”. The generally accepted number is 13.

p. 55 – Aliyah Bet is referenced several times, but not explained to the reader, who will miss understanding that the psychology and methodology of AB had on its agents, who ran the Lishka.

p. 71 – Jewish Minorities Research was run out of the office of the American Jewish Congress, not the American Jewish Committee, as written.

p. 106 - “ten thousand people” gathered in Washington, DC. No source for this number given. If this is the gathering I recall, it was a lot smaller.

p. 107 - “In New York, ten thousand young people marched”. No source given. My recollection is that the number was a lot smaller.

p. 108 - “From this point on {December 1966} the mobilization in support of Soviet Jewry drew its legitimacy from a universalist discourse of respect for human rights, moving away from the anticommunist rhetoric that had, in the movement's earlier phase, been one of its driving forces.” I do not recall any instance of anti-communist rhetoric either from the Establishment or from SSSJ from both groups' inceptions in April 1964 until December 1966, or thereafter.

pp. 110, 115 – Lafayette Square should be Lafayette Park.

p. 116 - “At the roots of this confrontation {between the Establishment and independent grassroots groups such as SSSJ} were recently immigrated Jews”. Incorrect. SSSJ was led by and composed of mostly second and third generation American Jews. “Student Struggle for Soviet Jews” should be Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry – on this and other pages such as 148.

p. 117 – “Louis Rosenblum, a psychologist”. He was a NASA engineer. Herb Caron, “a Reform rabbi”. He was psychologist; Daniel Litt, unmentioned, was the rabbi.

P. 120 - Re SSSJ, “It was only in 1971, once the organization became part of the AJCSJ, that its base began to expand and it was finally able to extend its field of action beyond New York State.” Incorrect. SSSJ's field of action continued to spread beyond New York City steadily since it began in 1964. But there was an additional kick in 1971, after the Leningrad Trials and with the presence of refuseniks and Prisoners for Zion, and with more information about them available. It had nothing at all to do with the AJCSJ. We received no funds or assistance from them, but were one of their constituent groups and operated totally independently.

p. 122 - “Without prior consultation, Jewish organizations, both establishment and grassroots, turned away from anticommunism....” Incorrect. Neither SSSJ nor the CCSA were ever overtly anti-communist, just pro-Jewish.

p. 140 – Meir Kahane, “a former lawyer”. He graduated law school, but to my recollection, never passed the bar exam and thus never practiced law.

p. 144 – Geula Cohen visited Kahane in December 1969 “where she convinced Kahane to concentrate all his efforts on Soviet Jewry”. What Peretz does not say is that Kahane called for “bold, continuous protest” for Jews in the USSR since 1963, five years before JDL was established.

p. 150. The author states that the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews was formed in 1971. Incorrect. It was 1970.

p. 152 – The 1970 Exodus March was not run by the American Conference on Soviet Jewry, as the author states, but by the Establishment New York Conference on Soviet Jewry, with very strong input by SSSJ.

p. 153 – The author indicates that the Freedom Lights for Soviet Jewry rally in Madison Square Garden was an Establishment affairs. Incorrect. It was conceived and directed by a grassroots SSSJ-affiliated couple, Azriel & Ahuva Genack. Several months into the process, they reached out to the Establishment New York Conference on Soviet Jewry for support; seeing an impending successful rally, the NYCSJ joined in with some money and contacts among its constituent organizations to sell tickets.

p. 157 – Here and on other pages, the author refers to Israel's seat of power, meaning the capital, as Tel Aviv. Incorrect. Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

p. 160 – The attempted hijacking of a Soviet plane to the west was not “in late 1970”; it was June 15, 1970.

p. 198 - “The procession that marched down Fifth Avenue in New York” was not organized by the NCSJ as the author implies, but by the New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

p. 230 – During the 1973 visit by Brezhnev to Washington, he accepted a list “which included the names of 750 prisoners of conscience and refuseniks who wished to emigrate to the United States”. Incorrect. They wanted to leave for Israel.

p. 231 – UCSJ director Rosenblum. Rosenblum stated to me that he was the chairman or coordinator, not director.

P. 232 – The author refers to the Medical Mobilization for Soviet Jewry as an NCSJ efffort. Incorrect. It was a project of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

p. 254 – The April 29, 1979 “mass meeting in their honor” – referring to the just-released Prisoners for Zion Edward Kuznetsov and Mark Dymshitz – was not just in their honor, since this Solidarity Day had been months in planning. Kuznetsov and Dymshitz had been swapped for Soviet spies two days before at JFK Airport.

p. 261 – Eugene Gold was not the director of NCSJ, as the author writes, but its chairman.

p. 288 – The author implies that all Soviet Jewry grassroots organizations opposed the Israeli demand that Russian Jewish emigrants holding vysovs from Israel go to Israel. That was certainly true of the UCSJ, but the SSSJ did not share that view. The SSSJ tried to remain out of this vicious fight, given that it sucked much energy from the campaign to open the USSR's gates to Jewish emigration. SSSJ stated that although it was very sympathetic to Israel's point of view – and many SSSJ activists themselves had gone on aliyah – it was somewhat hypocritical for American Jews, living in the US, to demand that all Jews exiting the Soviet Union go only to Israel.

p. 322 - “the grassroots organizations...alone resisted the idea of an exclusively Zionist immigration”. As on p. 288, SSSJ tried to stand outside this fray.