MIKHAIL GORBACHEV has duped American Jews into believing that the problem of Soviet Jewry has been solved, and the American Jewish community has lowered its guard. The New York United Jewish Appeal-Federation recently sponsored full-page ads in daily and Jewish newspapers asking that contributions be made to help absorb ``as many as 50,000 Jews who will leave Russia this year.'' The ads failed to mention that oppression of Soviet Jews continues. How the UJA can prophesy the exit of 50,000 is anyone's guess.
In New York, the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews has canceled its massive Solidarity Day rally for Soviet Jewry for the second consecutive year. Its new chairman proclaimed: ``There is no official anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.''
A few weeks ago, leaders of American Jewish organizations met with American business executives who promote United States-Soviet trade, reportedly to discuss ways to scuttle the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which links trade benefits for communist countries with freer emigration. And the National Conference on Soviet Jewry has now indicated, by a unanimous vote, its readiness to agree to a waiver of the amendment.
For Jews in the Soviet Union, all this is premature. Glasnost for them is more illusion than reality. Granted, the situation is better than it's been in recent years, but it falls far short of what it should be. By communist standards, things are on the upswing; by free-world standards, they're deplorable.
Emigration, though higher in 1988 than in 1987, was only 37 percent of the 51,320 who left in 1979. Those applying to leave still face formidable barriers. Many are refused on the spurious grounds of possessing ``state secrets,'' or because their relatives wouldn't sign a notarized consent form. Israeli officials have indicated that in 1988 alone, 100,000 Jews began the exit application process. Only one-fifth of that number were permitted to leave. In early March, nearly 50 refusenik women in seven Soviet cities staged a three-day hunger strike demanding exit visas.
The Kremlin promises to permit Jewish study on a larger scale have scarcely been fulfilled. Requests to legalize unofficial study groups are virtually always denied. Semyon Gurevich of Chernigov, the Ukraine, described how the KGB secret police recently raided his home, confiscated Jewish books, tapes, and photos, and then pressured him to denounce other Jews interested in Jewish culture and history.
With all this, American Jews have been lulled into complacency by Gorbachev's suave public relations campaign. On Feb. 12, the Kremlin opened its showpiece ``Jewish cultural center'' in Moscow with the participation of leading Western Jews. This hoopla is precisely what the Soviets want.
As American Jews have become silent, the US government has also started to alter its course of action. Despite repeated promises to the contrary, the US government has now agreed to an international human rights conference to be held in Moscow in 1991 rather than holding out for greater human rights concessions. In a change of policy, the State Department has now declared that Soviet Jews should not automatically be treated as refugees, since they are no longer being persecuted as a collective unit. Individual requests are now handled on a case-by-case basis. And the US is allowing a dramatic increase in trade, cultural, scientific, educational, and sports exchanges with the Soviets without demanding a real quid pro quo on human rights.
The US position is not surprising. If American Jews don't express a sense of urgency, neither will the administration. Indeed, if American Jews declare that ``all is well,'' why shouldn't Moscow be rewarded with a human rights conference? Why shouldn't Soviet Jews be considered free of persecution? Why shouldn't the US increase trade with the Soviet Union?
In the end, the US government cannot be expected to do more than American Jews demand.