Charles Vanik, 94; backed emigration for Soviet Jews
Former U.S. Rep. Charles Vanik of Ohio, who co-sponsored an effort to force the Soviet Union to allow more Jews to emigrate, died of natural causes Wednesday at his home in Jupiter, Fla. He was 94.
The outspoken Democrat, a Catholic of Czech descent from Cleveland, was a congressman from 1955 to 1981. He had announced in early 1980 that he would not seek a 14th term in Congress that year, saying that he disliked being forced to raise funds and owe favors to donors.
Vanik and then-Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), sponsored what became known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment in 1974. The amendment to the Trade Reform Bill tied the Soviet Union’s trade status to whether it freely allowed Jewish emigration.
“At that time, he was one of the real liberals in the Congress, a leader in passage of social legislation,” said former Rep. Louis Stokes, a fellow Ohio Democrat.
Emigration of Soviet Jews increased in the years after the bill passed, but slowed to a trickle in the 1980s and became a major source of friction between the two nations.
In 1988, five years after Jackson died, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev urged the amendment to be scrapped, saying: “Why should the dead hold on to the coattails of the living? I mean the Jackson-Vanik amendment. One of them is already physically dead. The other is politically dead.”
The New York Times reported that Vanik countered: “Lenin has been dead for a long time and they still live under his guidance.” But he added that the amendment could be waived if Moscow continued making progress on emigration. Then-President George H.W. Bush did waive the amendment in December 1990, a year before the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment is still on the books. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have criticized Washington for failing to repeal it, saying that the refusal to do so undermined trust between the two nations.
Vanik was born in Cleveland on April 7, 1913. He graduated from Adelbert College of Western Reserve University in 1933 and from Western Reserve’s law school in 1936. He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served with amphibious forces in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II.
His political career began when he won election to the Cleveland City Council in 1938.
He also served in the Ohio Senate and was a municipal court judge before running for Congress.
Survivors include his wife, Betty; son John; daughter Phyllis; and two grandchildren.