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Russia: Growing Signs Of Anti-Semitism Appearing

There are troubling signs of rising anti-Semitism in Russia. That's the assessment of the executive director of a prominent American Jewish organization who visited the country recently. He says anti-Semitism is taking root among the more educated segments of Russian society.

Washington, 24 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The executive director of a prominent American Jewish organization says anti-Semitism is on the rise in Russia.

Mark Levin of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry says Russian Jews are being blamed as scapegoats for the country's economic problems. Particularly disturbing, he says, is that a recent survey indicates anti-Semitism is taking root in the more educated elements of society.

Levin and some of his associates recently visited Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to assess reports of anti-Semitism. He talked about the trip yesterday (Tuesday) during a briefing at RFE/RL's office in Washington. His report focused on Russia.

Levin said some of the comments made by Russians were especially disturbing.

"It was quite startling for everyone in our group to hear one individual in particular saying that Russian Jews had no place in politics and that they would be better off sticking to business -- but even that can cause problems."

When this observation was repeated many times, Levin said he saw a disturbing pattern emerging.

"We began to ask some of our friends in the Jewish community to get their reaction, and they said they weren't surprised at all because this was something they have lived with on a daily basis."

Anti-Semitism in Russia came under criticism by the U.S. State Department last July following a stabbing attack on a prominent Jewish leader in a Moscow synagogue. Also, there have been other attacks against Jews in recent months, including placing a bomb in a synagogue. The explosive device was dismantled and there were no injuries.

An overwhelming majority of U.S. Senators wrote to Russian President Boris Yeltsin last summer, urging him to confront what they called the menace of anti-Semitism.

The letter called on Yeltsin to demonstrate his disagreement with those who espouse hatred.

Levin said it was also shocking to hear from a senior political figure in one of the reform parties that the major reason for rising anti-Semitism in Russia was the actions of the Jewish population itself. Levin did not identify the politician by name but said he belonged to a progressive political movement.

The group's visit coincided with what Levin called the last roundup of "people of color" in the city of Moscow in the wake of deadly explosions blamed on Chechen activists. He was referring to Moscow authorities' campaign to expel undocumented Chechen residents from the city and those simply suspected of harboring anti-Russian sentiments.

"What hasn't gotten a lot of attention because it's not involving a number of that large a group of people -- but there are a number of Jews from the Caucuses regions who have also been part of this roundup. The Moscow Jewish community has actually done quite a bit trying to at least give them some protection from this further acts of discrimination."

Levin said in some cases the Jewish community was successful in reversing orders to deport from the capital several hundred Jews, who happened to be born in the Caucasus. He said this issue was not highlighted by Jewish organizations in the West because of the wish by the Moscow Jewish community to handle it in its own way.

For now, Levin said Russian extreme nationalist politicians have shifted their main focus from Jews to Chechens in light of a continuing military offensive against the breakaway republic. Still, he said, anti-Semitism is a daily fact of Russian society.

Levin said there are as many as 300 anti-Semitic publications currently available in Russia.

He said one television (ORT) news program earlier this month made the troubling assertion that Jews represent a "fifth column" in Russia who are seeking to promote ideas and programs that do not represent the country's interest.

Levin said a lot of work remains to be done to eradicate anti-Semitism in Russia. He called on Western governments and human rights groups to do more than just monitor the situation, urging them to actively work to counter hatred and prejudice.