Gerald Ford's presidency was short,
but pivotal in liberating Soviet Jewry.
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Jewish leader Max Fisher, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office, 1975.
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January 4 • 2007
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
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is presidency lasted less
than 1,000 days, but it was
enough time to support an
international accord that provided a
significant boost to the Soviet Jewry
movement and marked a key moment
in the history of the Cold War.
Gerald R. Ford, who died Dec. 26,
2006, at age 93, signed the Helsinki
Declaration in August 1975 along
with the leaders of the Soviet Union,
Canada and 32 European nations.
The agreement required the Soviet
Union to respect human rights,
including fundamental freedoms of
religion, thought and conscience, and
contributed to mounting global pres-
sure to free persecuted Soviet Jews.
"His administration's signing of the
Helsinki accords, which established a
clear link between international rela-
tions and human rights, was the most
important step in the struggle to win
the Cold War — even though, when
they were signing it, both sides didn't
necessarily realize this:' said Natan
Sharansky, an icon of the Soviet Jewry
Sharansky was a founder of the
Moscow Helsinki Group, an organiza-
tion started to monitor Soviet compli-
ance with the accord.
"The West thought that making
a connection to human rights was
important in and of itself, even if there
was a chance that it turned out to be
mere lip service,' said Sharansky, a
former Israeli Cabinet minister who
now is head of strategic studies at the
Shalem Center, an academic research
institution in Jerusalem.
"As it happened, it ended up being
the most decisive move to help dissi-
dents in the USSR."
Ford already had distinguished
himself as a vocal supporter of Soviet
Jews. In January 1975, he signed into
law the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,
which denied most-favored nation
trading status to countries with
restrictive emigration policies — an
attempt to pressure the Kremlin into
approving more exit visas for Soviet