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Moscow’s chief rabbi, Swiss national Pinkhas Goldschmidt, says Russian border guards denied him reentry to the country on 26 September when he returned from a trip to Israel. He says the border guards told him that his Russian visa had been annulled, but gave no further explanation. He then had to fly back to Israel. Jewish religious leaders both in Russia and abroad have expressed deep concern over the incident and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to immediately let Goldschmidt return to Russia.
Moscow, 28 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Goldschmidt says border guards failed to explain why they turned him back at a Moscow airport and put him on a flight to Israel.
The rabbi, a Swiss national who has been living and working in Russia for 16 years, claims his visa for Russia had been valid until August next year.
He urged Russian authorities yesterday to let him return to Russia, saying he hoped the incident resulted from a misunderstanding.
Moscow’s Jewish community reacted with dismay to the incident, which takes place just days before the start of Jewish New Year celebrations.
Adolf Shaevich, Russia's chief rabbi, told RFE/RL today he was at a loss to explain why Goldschmidt had been denied entry to the country.
“[It was a] great surprise, because Rabbi Goldschmidt has been working with us for almost 16 years and there has never been any problem. I don’t even know how to explain this. We hope it is just a misunderstanding,” Shaevich said.
He said his congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations had requested an explanation from the Foreign Ministry but had yet to receive an answer.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any clear information. Yesterday [Tuesday] we sent a request to the Foreign Ministry asking for an explanation for this incident. We haven’t received any answer yet, and it is not very clear who is behind this, and why,” Shaevich said.
The Conference of European Rabbis, an organization grouping Jewish religious leaders from over 40 countries, said it was profoundly concerned by the incident. Goldschmidt represents Russia on the organization’s standing committee. In a statement released yesterday, the group urged Putin to immediately allow Goldschmidt to return to Russia and cast doubt on Russia’s commitment to protect the rights of Jewish people.
There have been dozens of instances over the past few years in which foreign religious workers have been denied visas and barred from Russia.
But this is the first time Russian authorities have turned back a Jewish religious leader. Such bans have targeted mainly Catholic priests as well as Protestant and Buddhist religious workers and representatives of minority religions.
Aleksandr Cherkasov is a human rights activist at the Memorial rights group. He says Goldschmidt's visa denial baffles him but adds it is too early to link the incident to what he describes as Russia's campaign against Catholic priests.
“There was a campaign during which Catholic priests were barred from entering [Russia]. This incident with the rabbi looks totally incomprehensible. I don’t understand what the rabbi could have done wrong,” Cherkasov said.
According to the last Russian census conducted in 2002, about 224,000 ethnic Jews now live in Russia. The country’s Jewish population has dwindled by more than half since the late 1980s, before the massive exodus to Israel that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.