Worries of Anti-Semitism Spread in Russia

MOSCOW, Russia – Pogroms and purges of Jews are a thing of the past in Russia, but as women scrubbed the bloodstained floors of Moscow’s Chabad Bronnaya synagogue on Thursday, a day after a man burst in and stabbed worshippers, alarm spread over increasingly open anti-Semitism.

Jewish leaders warned official indifference is fueling a wave of hate attacks and called for a crackdown on aggressive nationalist and fascist groups that have mushroomed in recent years. Police should guard outside synagogues and other Jewish sites, they said.

“We expect government and law enforcement agencies to take real measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, said. “If there is indifference, nothing will change.”

Worshippers were somber at the synagogue in downtown Moscow, where the knife-wielding man shouting “I will kill Jews” slashed and stabbed at least eight people before a rabbi’s son wrestled him to the ground.

“Until yesterday, I felt completely safe but things have gotten serious now,” said Nadav Zavilinsky, a 21-year-old religious student who witnessed the attack.

Among the eight men wounded were an American, an Israeli and a Tajik, chief Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev said. Four of the victims remained in serious condition Thursday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denounced “this perfidious attack” and said the United States “expresses its sympathy to the wounded and their families.” He also said the United States welcomed condemnation of the attack by the Russian government, “including its commitment to an investigation of this crime.”

A million Jews live in Russia, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities, as the Jewish community has experienced a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries before and after the break up of the Soviet Union.

But hundreds of racially motivated attacks, including the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, have occurred in recent years in violence aimed at Jews as well as dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains region.

More than 40 people in Russia were killed in apparently racially motivated attacks last year, according to the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights. The group estimates that Russia is home to some 50,000 skinheads and numerous neo-Nazi organizations.

Rights activists say such groups are emboldened by mild prosecution of hate crimes and they complain that Nazi and other extremist literature is sold freely.

The suspect in Wednesday’s attack, identified as Alexander Koptsev, 20, was reading a book about Jews betraying Russia shortly before the assault, his father told the Kommersant daily.

Two men assaulted two rabbis near another synagogue in Moscow in January but were convicted of assault and hooliganism, which carry lesser sentences than hate crimes.

Alla Gerber, head of the Holocaust Foundation, said anti-Semitism persisted within law enforcement ranks despite high-level condemnation.

“I was shocked at what happened yesterday, but not surprised. Anti-Semitism is a traditional problem in Russia, and it is flourishing now in a general climate of xenophobia,” Gerber said.

In what was seen as a step forward, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged anti-Semitism as a problem when he attended ceremonies in January marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

But just before the Auschwitz commemorations, a group of nationalist Russian lawmakers called for an investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred.

While the authorities ignored calls by human rights groups to prosecute the legislators, they investigated whether an ancient Jewish text incited religious hatred after a complaint from two nationalist activists.

Later Thursday, Moscow police chief, Vladimir Pronin promised to deploy officers to help protect synagogues. Lazar and Pronin also agreed in a meeting to set up a joint working group to monitor xenophobic propaganda and extremist groups, Lazar’s office said in a statement.

The rabbi of the synagogue targeted in Wednesday’s attack, Yitzhak Kogan, said Jews in modern Russia face a new threat.

“There is no more anti-Semitism on the state level, as we saw in Soviet times, but instead we have a lot of freedom for anti-Semitic groups in Russia, and the incident yesterday was one of its manifestations,” Kogan said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via The Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS, Russian Federation
Jan. 16, 2006
Henry Meyer

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday January 17, 2006.
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