Rising Anti-semitism Driving Jews out of Soviet Union, Say Activists

Rising anti-Semitism and ethnic strife are rapidly driving Jews out of the Soviet Union, according to Michael Chlenov and Natan Sharansky.

Chlenov, co-president of the Va’ad, the federation of Soviet Jewish communities founded in Moscow last month, made his observation during two days of meetings here of the World Jewish Congress.

Chlenov and Co-President Samuel Zilberg of Riga were the first Soviet Jews ever to attend executive committee meetings of the WJC.

Sharansky made his remarks to a packed audience at the McGill University Law School in Montreal, where a lectureship has been established in his name in recognition of his contributions to human rights.

Sharansky, who spent nine years in prisons and labor camps before he was allowed to go to Israel in 1986, makes no secret of his abiding hatred of the Soviet system.

The only positive result of glasnost, Sharansky said, is that the anti-Semitism that surfaced with the new openness “will lead to an exodus of 500,000 to 1 million Jews to Israel.”

Chlenov, who would also like to see Soviet Jews transplanted to Israel, sees anti-Semitism as a “boiling pot that hasn’t yet exploded” but still “may explode.”

The long-expected exodus of Soviet Jewry “has truly started,” he said, as a result of “panic and hysteria.”

‘DRIVEN BY FEAR’

Tens of thousands of Jews are now leaving the Soviet Union, but it “is an aliyah which is mainly driven by fear, frustration and hate, rather than the desire to be reunited with the Jewish people,” Chlenov said.

There are “a lot of those who remained true to Yiddishkeit,” he said, but “an even bigger number who don’t know anything about Judaism.”

Chlenov said the Va’ad intends to prepare Jews not only for aliyah but for absorption in Israel as well, and that the new organization will “try to work together with the State of Israel” to create a “siddur mukdam,” a committee to prepare emigres.

It will be one of several groups formed to deal with pressing Jewish problems, including the development of organized Jewish life in the Soviet Union, anti-Semitism and reunification with world Jewry.

Sharansky, speaking in Montreal, said that “Russian traditional anti-Semitism has been made worse by 70 years of the Soviet regime and domination.

“Many Soviet citizens are now looking for a scapegoat for the bankruptcy of their country, and they are trying to pin on the Jews the suffering (which) Communism brought to the Soviet Union,” he said.

As an example of scapegoating, Sharansky cited propaganda circulated by Pamyat, which he identified as “an extreme right-wing, nationalistic, Slavophile and overtly anti-Semitic organization whose ranks are growing daily.”

Pamyat holds Jews responsible for the December 1988 earthquake which devastated Soviet Armenia.

It claims that the seismologists, who happened to be Jewish, kept the secret of the coming catastrophe under wraps.

“This sort of thing explains why 2,000 Jews daily request the right to emigrate,” Sharansky said, adding that “1 million Jews are candidates for immigration.”

According to Chlenov and Zilberg, anti-Semitism is much more prevalent in Russia than in the Central Asian republics.

WIESEL APPEALS TO GORBACHEV

Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who has just returned from the Soviet Union, appealed to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to pay attention to anti-Semitism, to stop the de-Judaization of the Holocaust and to declare Stalin’s crimes to have been crimes against humanity.

Wiesel told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he found the public mood there “as morose as never before.

“Most Jews want to leave now,” he said. “This was my sixth visit, and I have never seen so many Jews being seized by fear.

“They are afraid that if Gorbachev goes, they don’t know what will happen,” Wiesel said.

Wiesel was there together with more than 1,000 religious, political and scientific leaders from 83 nations, including members of the newly elected Supreme Soviet, to attend the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, which dealt with preserving the world’s environment.

After the environmental conference ended last Friday, a unique event occurred at the very core of the Soviet Union.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York’s Park East Synagogue conducted a Jewish prayer service inside the Kremlin.

(JTA correspondent Michael Solomon in Montreal contributed to this report.)

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