Senator HENRY M. JACKSON
Senator Henry M. Jackson
The drawing was made for the International Commemorative Conference
held in Jerusalem on the Occasion of the 20th Aniversary
of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment
The late Senator Henry M. Jackson would have welcomed an extraordinary, if indirect, testimonial to him made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a Washington, D.C. luncheon several months ago. An audience invited by Vice President Al Gore and comprising the American foreign policy elite heard Yeltsin say on September 27, 1994 that every Russian school child knows what the Jackson-Vanik Amendment stands for.
Henry Martin Jackson was born in Everett, Washington, on May 31, 1912, and died there on September 1, 1983, at the age of 71. At his death, he was the senior U.S. Senator from the State of Washington and had served in Congress for nearly 43 years.
A graduate of the University of Washington where he received his law degree in 1935, "Scoop" Jackson, as he became known, was admitted to the Washington bar and began practice with an Everett law firm. The lure of public life was strong, however, and in the fall of 1938 he was elected to the prosecutor's office at the age of 26. He remained in public life until his death. During World War II he served in the Army as an enlisted man until recalled to his congressional duties by President Roosevelt. In 1945, Congressman Jackson officially visited Buchenwald a few days after the death camp was liberated.
Jackson was reelected five times to the House of Representatives and, in 1952, successfully challenged the incumbent Harry P. Cain for his Senate seat. In more than 30 years in the Senate, Senator Jackson was deeply involved in the major issues of American political life, from the drama of the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 to the fight for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s.
Far more eloquent testimony of the historic significance of Jackson-Vanik than Yeltsin's comments were the actual figures of large-scale aliyah. While other factors, such as the Helsinki process, were vital and crucial elements in the aliyah breakthrough, Jackson-Vanik provided a critical spark plug. Senator Jackson had specifically referred to a "benchmark" of 60,000 Jewish emigrants per annum to measure Moscow's commitment to the provisions of the Amendment which was largely his brainchild.
As important as the volume of exodus, and perhaps even more so, was the removal of obstacles to emigration and the establishment of machinery to facilitate obtaining exit visas. The principal obstacle was an arbitrary decision of Russian administrators that the exit visa applicant allegedly knew state secrets.
While President Yeltsin was giving emphasis to the significance of Jackson-Vanik, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, in his newly published work, Diplomacy, was expressing harsh criticism of what he perceived to be the use of trade linkage "as a means of producing domestic upheaval in the Soviet Union...." Jackson and his supporters were described by Kissinger as treating "the issue of Jewish emigration" as a "surrogate for the ideological confrontation with Communism."
The allegations were without foundation. Jackson, in reintroducing his Amendment in the Senate on April 15, 1973 had specifically referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community's principal standard of civility, as the source of his proposal. Article 13(b) of the Declaration made explicit the absolute right of everyone to leave any country including his own. The provision had been cruelly observed in the breach by the USSR and its allies in East Europe. What the Senator sought was the Soviet Union's adherence to a fundamental standard of civilization, certainly not a domestic upheaval nor even an ideological confrontation with Communism.
What had prompted Senator Jackson to undertake his historic initiative was a secret decision of the Kremlin in mid-August, 1972, clearly designed to halt the flow of Jewish emigrants to Israel which had begun only some 18 months earlier. An applicant for an exit visa would now have to pay an exorbitant "diploma tax," the size of which to be linked to the number of years he or she had spent in higher education. A scientist with an average annual income of 2,000 rubles might have had to pay a prohibitive 40,000 rubles for himself and his family. Leading Soviet Jewish activists saw the tax as establishing "a new category of human beings — the slaves of the twentieth century."
An emergency meeting of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry leadership was called in September, 1972 to respond to this brutal assault upon international standards. Senator Jackson addressed the group and promised urgent legislative action. The following month, with the cooperation of Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Jacob Javits, Jackson prepared a statute which would refuse trade benefits to a "non-market economy country" which denied its citizens the right to emigrate or which imposed more than a nominal tax on emigration Three quarters of the Senate joined Jackson as sponsors.
The tough-minded Washington Senator would be obliged to reintroduce the statute on April 15, 1973, at the following legislative session. By then Congressman Charles Vanik of Ohio had submitted (in February) similar legislation in the House of Representatives with 237 co-sponsors. The expression of America's conscience could not be more clearly sounded. Its impact was extraordinarily quick and positive. On March 21, 1973, a Soviet journalist who had frequently acted as the mouthpiece of the KGB, Victor Louis, announced that the "diploma tax will not be enforced any more." He went on to acknowledge that the Kremlin decision was a result of congressional pressure and concluded that Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate "have won a victory in the six-month war against the education tax." The revocation of a Kremlin edict was a rare phenomenon in a totalitarian state.
For Soviet Jewish activists, Senator Jackson had become and would remain the champion of their rights and aspirations. Prominent Soviet non-Jewish dissidents were equally supportive. Especially important was the backing of the distinguished voice of democratic rights, Andrei D. Sakharov. Running a dangerous personal risk, the great scientist and humanist wrote an "open letter" to the U.S. Congress on September 14, 1973, urging that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment be enacted into law.
On December 20, 1974, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, together with the Trade Reform Act to which it was attached, were adopted by the U.S. Congress. The legislation was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on January 10, 1975. One day after the congressional enactment, the Kremlin launched a vast media campaign scathingly attacking Jackson-Vanik.
But just a few years after the Kremlin's repudiation of Jackson-Vanik, it signalled clearly to Washington that it would welcome an agreement on most-favored-nation tariff treatment. In 1978, Soviet Jewish emigration jumped to 28,000 and in 1979 to an unprecedented figure of 51,000.
Thus, long before the massive recent exodus of Soviet Jews to Israel and the West, beginning in 1989, Jackson-Vanik had vividly demonstrated its great humanitarian value. Leverage through linkage of trade benefits to eased emigration was shown to produce practical results. This was not only the case for the USSR. When Romania, in 1982 sought to impose a burdensome education tax on would-be Jewish emigrants, Washington made it crystal clear to Bucharest that the MFN which she had enjoyed for several years would be withdrawn under the provisions of Jackson-Vanik. In June 1983, President Ceausescu revoked the offending decree.
No wonder then that a major Twentieth Century Fund-sponsored study on international emigration practices published by Yale University Press in 1987 lauded Jackson-Vanik as "the single most effective step the United States has ever taken against the new serfdom (of emigration restrictions)...." The validity of that judgment is even more apparent today as one observes a large-scale exodus of Jews from Russia and the former Soviet Union twenty-years after the draft amendment became law.
This text is based on the article written in 1994 by Dr. William Korey on the 20th Anniversary of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with some additions from the biography of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson. Site editorial board