The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S.-Soviet Trade Bill, which became law in 1974, was to play a major role in Soviet-American relations until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment had its origins in 1972. In response to the sharp increase in the number of Soviet Jews seeking to leave the Soviet Union, primarily because of rising Soviet anti-Semitism, the Brezhnev regime imposed a prohibitively expensive exit tax on educated Jews who wanted to leave. In response, Senator Henry Jackson of the State of Washington introduced an amendment to the Soviet-American Trade Bill, linking the trade benefits Moscow wanted (most favored nation treatment for Soviet exports and U.S. credits) to the exodus of Soviet Jews. Jackson's amendment quickly got support in Congress, as Representative Charles Vanik of Ohio introduced a similar amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Soviet leadership, which might have thought that a trade agreement with the Nixon Administration would conclude the process, belatedly woke up to the growing Congressional opposition. After initially trying to derail the Jackson-Vanik amendment by threatening that it would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism both in the Soviet Union and the United States, the Soviet leaders began to make concessions. At first they said there would be exemptions to the head tax, and then they put the tax aside as the Soviet-American Trade Bill neared passage in Congress in 1974. At the last minute, however, Senator Adlai Stevenson III, angry at Soviet behavior during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Moscow had cheered the Arab oil embargo against the United States, introduced an amendment limiting U.S. credits to the Soviet Union to only $300 million over four years, and prohibiting U.S. credits for developing Soviet oil and natural gas deposits. The Soviet leadership, which had been hoping for up to $40 billion in U.S. credits, then repudiated the trade agreement. However, the impact of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment remained. Thus whenever Moscow sought trade and other benefits from the United States, whether in the 1978–1979 period under Brezhnev, or in the 1989–1991 period under Gorbachev, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union soared, reaching a total of 213,042 in 1990 and 179,720 in 1991.
Freedman, Robert O., ed. (1984). Soviet Jewry in the Decisive Decade, 1971–1980. Durham: Duke University Press.
Freedman, Robert O., ed. (1989). Soviet Jewry in the 1980s. Durham: Duke University Press.
Korey, William. (1975). "The Story of the Jackson Amendment." Midstream 21(3):7–36.
Orbach, William. (1979). The American Movement to Aid Soviet Jews. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Stern, Paula. (1979). Water's Edge: Domestic Politics and the Making of American Foreign Policy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Robert O. Freedman