Estonian Jews Experience Increased Anti-semitism, Jewish Groups Report

Jews in Estonia are experiencing an upsurge in anti-Semitism along with the threat of being deprived of their civil rights, Jewish groups are reporting.

In a letter to B’nai B’rith International in Washington, a Jew in the capital city of Tallinn detailed some unsettling incidents, saying new developments in Estonia “menace life and calmness of Jews.”

Among the incidents reported are threatening phone calls, graffiti, newspapers articles and cemetery desecrations.

Mark Levin, acting executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said his group “has been monitoring this for a long time and will continue to make approaches to the appropriate government officials here and abroad.”

Although Estonia’s just-ratified constitution disenfranchises some 600,000 persons, most of them of Russian origin, Jews are reported being particularly targeted by nationalist, even Nazi-like elements.

The new Estonian Constitution decrees that residents who were not themselves or whose parents were not registered residents in Estonia in 1938 are not Estonian citizens.

Such persons cannot vote and cannot own property. By the end of this year, such persons could also be prohibited from being employed in civil service jobs.

The new Estonian law requires families who came to the Baltic state at the time of the Soviet occupation in 1940 to wait a year for citizenship, and then only after passing an Estonian-language proficiency exam.

The Jews have been labeled Soviet collaborators, getting marching orders from “international Zionism,” according to the World Jewish Congress and the National Conference.

Tombstones were recently desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Tartu, site of a concentration camp during World War II.

A rally by a Slavic group last month turned into a strongly anti-Semitic gathering, reports the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. There was even a call for the word “kike” (zhiddy) to be legalized, said Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils. But there are differing accounts of the government’s response.

‘TIRED OF THE JEWISH PROBLEM’

B’nai B’rith’s contact said the Estonian government “refused to comment” on the anti-Semitic incidents or “to guarantee our security.”

George Spectre, associate director of international and governmental affairs of B’nai B’rith, said a group of Jews who brought the problem to the government’s attention were told, “We are tired of the Jewish problem.”

But the WJC said a member of the Estonian government called the chairman of the Jewish community to assure him that the “government unequivocally condemned such manifestations.”

Spectre said he was told that Jews in Estonia are increasingly asking for visas for the United States and Israel.

But the Jewish Agency has not registered an increase in requests for Israeli visas from Estonia, according to Jenni Rothfield, its director of public information here.

Likewise, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society reported “no special activity” for Estonian visa requests.

The Estonian consul in New York, Aarand Roors, said his country had been occupied for so long that its language and sovereignty had become alien on its own soil.

“Minorities in Estonia are eligible to apply for citizenship if they have lived there permanently for two years when they submit application. That is altogether three years, which I think is rather liberal compared to any other country,” he said.

He spoke highly of the Jewish community of Estonia as not only able and willing to speak Estonian but excelling in the language.

“The Jews in general are the best speakers of Estonian of all the non-Estonians, together with the Finns,” he said.

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