Fear of Anti-semitism Still Strong in Soviet Union, Despite New Climate

Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, including the potential for pogroms, remains a major concern of Soviet Jews, according to participants in a seminar devoted to the phenomenon held here Wednesday.

In fact, according to a survey released at the conference, more than half of 4,200 Soviet citizens interviewed would like all Jews to leave the Soviet Union. More than 10 percent said the Jews should be transferred to the Far East.

And more than half of those polled called for intensified struggle against Zionism.

The conference, attended by nearly 200 people from the Soviet Union and abroad, was organized by the Vaad, the umbrella body of Soviet Jewish organizations, and the World Conference on Soviet Jews, assisted by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, an American organization.

The seminar, held at the Shalom Theater, was a parallel activity to the international human rights conference currently being held in Moscow under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It was chaired by Roman Spektor, a member of the Vaad presidium. Participants included representatives of non-governmental organizations attached to the CSCE.

There were five hours of presentations by specialists on anti-Semitism from the United States, Canada, Britain and the Soviet Union, and statements from the floor, mainly by Soviet Jews.

One of them, Col. Yuri Sokol, who established the first Soviet-Jewish museum in Moscow some years ago. spoke on behalf of Jews who lived in ghettos or were incarcerated in concentration camps.

Displaying samples of anti-Semitic publications in circulation, he said the upsurge of Jewbaiting “reminds us of what happened in fascist Germany” before the Holocaust.

The colonel implied that the national leaders were loathe to deal with the subject. Mikhail “Gorbachev and (Boris) Yeltsin have great difficulty in pronouncing the world ‘anti-Semitism,’ ” he said, referring to the president of the Soviet Union and the president of the Russian republic.

DANGER OF ‘RELATIVISING’ HOLOCAUST

A paper presented by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and author of a book on how the Holocaust was glossed over in the media, addressed the issue of “Denying the Holocaust: From Babi Yar, 1941, to Lithuania, 1991.”

“How history is written determines a society’s future,” said Lipstadt, a scholar of the technique of Holocaust revisionism. “Relativising” the Holocaust leads, ultimately, to its denial or at least to minimizing Jewish genocide, she said.

Lipstadt blamed the Soviet authorities for denying the fact of Jewish genocide after an initial acknowledgement of it, and journalists of the time who were reluctant to believe accounts of the Jewish experience for lack of “eyewitness” testimony.

Irwin Cotler, a law professor at McGill University in Canada, spoke of anti-Semitism as a threat to world peace. Mark Batunsky of the Soviet Union delivered a paper on Islam and anti-Semitism.

David Akselbant, a Soviet Jewish attorney who represents Jewish activists and is the Vaad’s legal adviser, spoke of the January 1990 break-in by members of the rabidly anti-Semitic Pamyat into the House of Writers, in Moscow.

He said the prosecution of the late Pamyat leader Konstantin Smirnov-Ostashvili for his part in the raid, under Article 24 of the Soviet Criminal Code, was enabled only through the pressure of “would public opinion.”

Also speaking at the seminar was Shoshana Cardin, Chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, who is in Moscow as part of the official U.S. delegation to the CSCE session.

Cardin, who is also chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, praised the CSCE, known also as the Helsinki Commission, for its past efforts to create “a common document” on human rights, including a condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“Many of our aspirations have been met, but many have yet to be achieved,” she said.

Leaders of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews attended early sessions of the CSCE conference, after holding a preliminary meeting in Vilnius with other human rights groups, such as the Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group; the Sakharov Congress, led by Yelena Bonner; and Memorial, a group designed to rehabilitate and document the crimes of the Holocaust.

Micah Naftalin, director of the Union of Councils, said anti-Semitism is being reported in the Soviet Union’s Moslem republics, but Jews are so afraid they are reticent to admit troubles.

“We had enormous difficulty getting Jews to admit they were being threatened,” he said. Ironically, he said, information on dangers to Jews in those republics was more forthcoming from Christian human rights leaders in that region.

(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)

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