Jews and academics have expressed dismay and consternation at a Russian anti- Semite’s refusal to resign his position as a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
But the protesters seem to have no legal recourse to force Igor Shafarevich, who heads the mathematical institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, to quit his American post.
Responding to a written request to consider stepping down, Shafarevich sent a letter to the U.S. academy acknowledging he has criticized in writing Jewish groups and Jewish nationalism in Russia.
He said this did not constitute anti-Semitism, however, and refused to give up his position with the U.S. academy.
He said that resigning his membership, which he has held since 1974, would validate the accusation of anti-Semitism contained in the letter to him signed by Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and James Wyngaarden, its foreign secretary.
Replying to Shafarevich’s refusal to resign, the National Academy issued a statement saying the organization “stands by its earlier letter” to the mathematician.
Press said he would take no further action against Shafarevich because the academy has no rules to govern this situation. In fact, the academy could not even ask Shafarevich to resign but only to consider the move.
“We would be pleased if he would resign. But we cannot force him to do so,” Press said in the statement.
In their letter to Shafarevich, Press and Wyngaarden pointed out that the Steklov Institute, Russia’s premier mathematical institution, which he heads, discriminates against Jews.
They also wrote of their “strong aversion” to Shafarevich’s anti-Semitic writings, which are highlighted in a 120-page book titled “Russophobia,” published in the early 1980s, and a paper, “Russophobia 10 Years Later.”
Dr. Lawrence Shepp, an American mathematician who translated “Russophobia” into English in 1989, said he did so to “wake people up.”
Shepp said Shafarevich “was asked to consider resigning in view of the fact that his views are so out of line with the views of people in the academy, in the United States and in view of the anti-Semitic and discriminatory nature of his speeches and books since 1980.”
This past February, Shepp wrote a letter, together with 20 other mathematicians of the academy, urging Press “not to give any support to the Steklov Mathematical Institute because of their continuing anti-Semitic practices.”
Dorothy Hirsch, director of the Committee for Concerned Scientists in New York, said, “We are in favor of keeping close and helping these (Russian or other foreign) scientists, but we don’t want to see academic money going to perpetuate anti-Semitism, for example, at Steklov.”
Shafarevich’s theme in “Russophobia” is that “small people” are undermining the larger populace. “The nucleus of Russophobic small people is composed of Jews,” he wrote.
These “small people represented by the Russian intelligentsia, in collaboration with the small people of former ghetto dwellers, united and created the power which diverted the Russian people from its historic course and brought it to its present crisis,” Shafarevich wrote.
News of his writings was reported from Moscow by the Washington Post in April 1990.
“No essay has drawn more attention among the Soviet intelligentsia,” wrote the Post’s David Remnick.
Remnick wrote that other prestigious Soviet journals “regularly run articles and letters that many Jews here believe echo the resentful themes of ‘Russophobia.’”
Speaking to the Post, Shafarevich denied being an anti-Semite, saying the accusation was the result of Jewish “persecution mania.”
The Anti-Defamation League has been following his case. “His writing was adopted and used by Pamyat and other extremist groups to make their case,” said Myrna Shinbaum, an ADL spokeswoman and Soviet expert.
“We would hope that his peers would isolate him,” she said of the foreign scientific community.
The leaders of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews wrote a letter to Press expressing “our highest praise for your unprecedented action against Igor Shafarevich.”
“As an intellectual opinion leader, and a foremost Russian anti-Semitic xenophobic, his voice is inimical to the fragile causes of human rights, freedom and democracy,” wrote Pamela Cohen, UCSJ president, and Micah Naftalin, national director.