American Jewish groups have applauded the conviction in Moscow of a leader of the anti-Semitic group Pamyat as an important first step in the fight against anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, which for decades was sanctioned by the government.
Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili was convicted by a Moscow court Friday and sentenced to two years in jail for instigating interethnic enmity.
Smirnov-Ostashvili was convicted of disrupting a Jan. 18 meeting of the April Committee, a liberal writers group with Jewish and non-Jewish members. After leading a gang of 20 to 30 Pamyat members into the meeting hall, he shouted through a bullhorn: “Kikes, go home to Israel!”
The intruders smashed windows and threatened that while they were carrying only megaphones that day, they would return in the future with guns. Some of the writers were reportedly beaten up by members of Pamyat, which is the best known of the anti-Semitic groups flourishing under glasnost.
Smirnov-Ostashvili disrupted the courtroom several times during the three-month trial. He suffered a dramatic “heart attack,” which most observers believe he faked, during a court appearance in August. He left the hospital a few days later in apparent good health.
Three weeks after that, he disappeared from the public eye, failing to show up at a scheduled court date. But he was there for the sentencing.
Hecklers interrupted the sentencing, with one Pamyat supporter shouting, “This is a Yiddish, Nazi verdict,” according to a report in The New York Times.
FIRST CONVICTION OF ITS KIND
Smirnov-Ostashvili shouted, “It’s all a lie!” at the court, according to the Times, insisting that he had committed no crime, but rather had exercised his right to free speech. He charged that extensive press coverage had forced the trial against him.
He denounced President Bush as the leader of a worldwide “Jewish Mafia” and told an applauding crowd of spectators, “I am ready to die for Russia!” as he was led out of the courtroom.
“The conviction is important,” according to Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. “As far as we know, it’s the first time there’s been an arrest and conviction in a case of anti-Semitism.
“It is clearly a historic moment, and we hope that it reflects a good precedent for the future,” he said.
“This strict sentence was historic because it marks the first time the Soviet government has sent a clear, unequivocal message that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated,” explained Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry, in a prepared statement, said it hopes the conviction and two-year sentence will “serve as a warning to other individuals and organizations who promote anti-Semitism within the USSR.”
But Glenn Richter, national coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, said Smirnov-Ostashvili’s two-year punishment is not sufficient. “I think he got the publicity he wanted, and that two years is far too little,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.