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Remark by Yeltsin Aide Sparks Outcry from Party, Jewish Groups

An anti-Semitic remark made by a senior aide to Russian President Boris Yeltsin has prompted criticism by members of Russia’s largest political party and by American Jewish organizations.

The comment was made on Russian television two weeks ago by Mikhail Poltoranin, the leader of a parliamentary committee on information and communications.

Condeming Russian media criticism of government policies, Poltoranin said his country’s journalists had developed a new language, “prison camp Hebrew,” which he described as “an explosive mix of Russophobia, hate for traditions, lies and contempt for traditions.”

“If this continues,” Poltoranin said, “we will simply blow up the country and trigger a colossal wave of anti-Semitism in return.”

Russian anti-Semitic groups had coined the word “Russophobia” during the 1960s as a catch-all term to describe alleged Jewish plots to take over the country.

Poltoranin subsequently was criticized by members of his own party, Russia’s Choice, which won the largest bloc of seats in the lower house of Parliament in last December’s elections.

The surprisingly strong showing of nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s so-called Liberal Democratic Party in the elections made Poltoranin’s remarks particularly sensitive.

The members of Poltoranin’s party did not officially rebuke him, but instead called on party members to “choose their words especially carefully when talking about the national problem,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Poltoranin later apologized for the remark.

According to Jewish organizations in Russia, anti-Semitism has steadily increased as the country’s living conditions have declined.

THE ATMOSPHERE IS BECOMING POLLUTED

The Washington-based Union of Councils, long an advocate for Soviet Jews, has condemned Poltoranin’s comments, which the organization’s national director, Micah Naftalin, described in a statement as “an index of just how polluted with anti-Semitism the general political atmosphere and rhetoric in Russia is becoming.”

“It was an attempt by the Yeltsin forces to intimidate critics in the press, as they have also done against human rights critics in recent months,” said the statement, which added that Poltoranin had made “rhetorical common cause with the nationalists by borrowing their anti-Semitic code words, such as Russophobia.

“This is especially chilling and intimidating coming from the chairman of the parliamentary committee that oversees the media,” Naftalin’s statement read.

The incident, according to the statement, “highlights the need for President Yeltsin to exert positive leadership by speaking out vigorously against dangerously rising anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of ethnic and national enmities and hate crimes.”

Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said the quote was very distressing and does not appear to be an isolated incident.

He said the National Conference’s Moscow representative believes such remarks reflect a reaction to Zhirinovsky’s success.

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