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Posted by on Jan 24, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head In Russia


NOTE: I have a personal interest the story cited below, since my grandfathers Nathan Gandelman and Abraham Ravinsky fled Russia to escape anti-semitism in the early part of the 20th Century.

Anti-semitism is bubbling up from the bowels of Russia once again.

There are a couple of disturbing trends:

  • The infamous "blood ritual" which accuses Jews of murdering Christians for ritual purposes has made a high-profile comeback in a major Russian newspaper. It came in the form of an anti-semitic letter signed by 500 prominent people, including journalists and politicians.
  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has demanded Russian authorities to investigate the brutal anti-Semitic attack on a rabbi near the Maryina Roscha Chabad community center on January 14.

There has been some progress over the years. A report on Russian anti-semitism published by the Anti-Defamation League last year noted:

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in the history of Russia and its people. For generations, anti-Jewish rhetoric was used by successive regimes and by politicians at all levels, and it always found a ready audience. With the emergence of the Russian democracy in the last decade, Russia no longer has state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, but while the general environment is more tolerant toward Jews, it is still far from perfect. Modern-day Russia is still in the first steps of developing a civil society, and much effort is still necessary to encourage tolerance in all levels of public life. At the present moment, while most of society does not actively support extremist anti-Semitic appeals and actions, the Russian population is not ready to stand up publicly against xenophobia in the country.

To be sure, anti-semitism has a long, sordid history. That’s why the resurfacing of the "blood ritual" is so troubling. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

A blood libel accusing Jews of murdering Christians for ritual purposes – a concept that disappeared for years from Russia’s anti-Semitic lexicon – made a comeback this week as an important crux in a remarkably fierce anti-Semitic diatribe that was published Sunday in the Russian newspaper Rus-pravoslavnaya.

The fundamentalist Pravoslavic paper, which defines itself as "patriotic," ran a letter asking the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ustinov, to open an investigation against all Jewish organizations throughout the country on suspicion of spreading incitement and provoking ethnic strife.

So the focus is on ALL Jewish organizations. More:

The letter calls for an end to government subsidies for these groups. The lengthy document was signed by 500 people, including newspaper editors, academics and intellectuals. These signatories were joined by 19 nationalist members of the lower parliament, the State Duma, from the nationalist Rodina (homeland) party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and the Russian Communist Party.

And it turns out it wasn’t a letter written by some nut, but by 500 people, many of whom what would normally be called part of the country’s elite. Not a good sign. And then there’s this:

Even though the story was picked up by radio stations and leading Internet sites in Russian, there has been no official condemnation.

The libelous document is divided into chapters with such titles as "The Morality of Jewish Fascism," "Provocateurs and People Haters" and "Jewish Aggression as an Expression of Devilry."

"I’m not a psychiatrist, and I can’t help them if they’re crazy," said Russia’s co-chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, in response. "The worst possibility is that they’re sane and are making a cynical move for electoral purposes."

The blood libel, described here as a ritual murder of Christian children that has already been proved in the courts, is only one thrust of the letter, which is thousands of words long and weaves a convoluted web between classic religious anti-Semitism and current anti-Israeli sentiment…..

The letter also indirectly criticizes President Putin and the state courts for their policy of trying anyone charged with anti-Semitism and incitement without verifying the claims’ veracity. Those charged spoke the truth, the letter maintains, and those accused of anti-Semitism were nothing but patriots.

The writers make use of quotations from traditional Jewish sources and current Israeli and Jewish publications. In the chapter on the Jewish oligarchs’ devastating control of Russia’s economy and politics, the letter quotes Jewish writers from Israel and the United States, along with excerpts from interviews with the oligarchs themselves.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky expressed shock yesterday at the fierceness of the anti-Semitic letter, saying that although the signatories represent a slim segment of Russian society, latent anti-Semitism is clearly a major danger there.

Sharansky quoted Putin saying that anti-Semitism is not only a danger to his country’s Jewish population, but a threat to the stability of his regime.

According to Sharansky, even though popular anti-Semitism is entrenched in Russian culture, Putin viewed the Jews as a bridge in new relations with the West, and granted freedom to Jewish communities there.

"However, Putin, for reasons of his own, precisely now needs to bolster Russia’s national pride," Sharansky said. "The problem is that the moment you start playing with nationalist slogans, they immediately link up with the most primitive prejudice.

One irony: in October, Rabbi Lazar criticized a State Department report about anti-semitism in Russia and defended his country:

Russia’s chief Rabbi Berl Lazar criticized a U.S. State Department report alleging rising anti-Semitism in Russia, and noted instead positive improvements in his country.

“The U.S. State Department’s special report lacks several aspects which point to positive changes in this respect over the past 15 years,� Lazar told Interfax on Sunday.

The report, released Wednesday, was mandated by an act of Congress last year, and covers 62 countries, documenting anti-Semitic acts around the world between July 2003 and the end of last year.

“We can’t say the situation is absolutely satisfactory everywhere, but we see that it is developing the right way,� Lazar was quoted as saying.

“The federal authorities understood several years ago, what we actually mean when we are talking about the threat of anti-Semitism as a precursor of fascism,� he continued.

“But Russia is a large country. What has been understood at the federal level did not reach the regional authorities at once, to say nothing of local authorities. However, local governments have been taking active measures lately to combat anti-Semitism,� the rabbi said.

In this October interview, he pointed to officials taking action to crack down on anti-Jewish acts, adding:

“Anti-Semites always belong to marginal groups in Russia. When Jews are weak, they act brazenly, but when a Jewish community is strong, they never venture to attack,� Lazar said.

UPDATE: Here is a COMPLETE translation of the letter in Russian, courtesy of Bnei Levi.