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JDL disrupts MIT American-Soviet conference

By Harold A. Stern

Protesters disrupted the Joint American-Soviet Seminar on Medical Engineering held here at MIT Tuesday. They attempted to force their way into the symposium, according to Lt. Marshall V. Cheverie of the Campus Police.

The demonstrators were part of the Boston and New York chapters of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), Cheverie said. Approximately 30 members had shown up to protest the conference.

None of the protestors were from MIT, said James M. Utterback, director of the Industrial Liason Program.

Kenneth Sidman of Brookline, spokesman for the JDL, explained the reason for the protest. "We consider it a desecration of the concept of intellectual freedom" for MIT to sponsor this symposium.

"Until the Soviet Union allows Jews and other people to leave their communist dictatorship, we will not let them operate freely at our institutions of higher learning," Sidman said.

"If they were actually concerned with medicine, they would not perform psychiatric experiments on refuseniks," he said, denying that the Russians were truly interested in an exchange of medical technology.

If the Soviets truly wanted to preserve lives, he continued, "they would let Yelena Bonner [wife of Andrei Sakharov, in internal exile in Gorky] get the medical operation she needs, but the authorities will not let her leave the country, just as they will not let any Soviet citizen leave for an operation, other than elected officials."

Sidman claimed that the seminar was held for propaganda only. "The purpose of this conference is a political one. The Soviets need trade with the United States, they need our technology, and they need the moral sanction of our scientists."

The JDL members' "hearts were in the right place," said Rabbi Daniel Shevitz of Hillel, "but their tactics were thoughtless, and counterproductive to the goals they are trying to accomplish. They came with the purpose of disrupting the meeting, and they did."

Blair Cohen '88, a Hillel member who participated in the demonstration, said that "We [Hillel and JDL] are both saying the same thing, but I think their actions were terrible." She added, "Hillel's demonstration was more effective."

Joshua Musher '87, president of Hillel, said of the JDL, that "the instant that they condone violence of any sort against anyone they should be thrown off campus," and indicated that that was the general consensus among Hillel members.

Utterback said that the protestors had been demonstrating outside of Kresge. They had been informed that they would not be allowed to demonstrate in front of the auditorium or enter the building.

"When the first Russian speaker [Yuri V. Legeev, deputy president of the US-USSR Trade and Economic Council] began his presentation, they broke into the auditorium and began to chant `Free Soviet Jews.' "

Sidman said that after entering the Little Theatre where the seminar was being held, the members of the JDL "asked Rosenblith if they could speak" to the attendees. He claimed that "Rosenblith was about to give them permission, when the police arrived."

"They were not violent or rough," Utterback said. "They were asked to leave politely by police." he continued.

Sidman denied this, however, saying that "one of the charges against the demonstrators was assault and battery." He called the charge "ridiculous," and continued, "We are thinking of filing a $500,000 police brutality lawsuit against Campus Police."

Eight arrests were made by the Campus Police, who then turned the demonstrators over to the Cambridge Police. They were booked in Cambridge's 3rd District Court, and then released on their own recognizance, Cheverie said.

Only four campus patrolmen were present when the protestors arrived, mostly because "we did not expect to have any problems," explained Cheverie. Reinforcements were sent to the scene, and further precautions will be taken to prevent a recurrence, he continued.

The Campus Police also had hired two men from the Cambridge Police Department to patrol the streets around MIT, Cheverie said.