As expected, the State Department granted a U.S. tourist visa to Russian extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Jewish leader around the country condemned the decision.
Zhirinovsky is set to begin a two-week visit Nov. 4.
“It’s the wrong message at the wrong time,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
A joint statement from the National Conference of Soviet Jewry and nine other major Jewish organizations called on Americans to condemn Zhirinovsky’s message of hate and let him know he is not welcome in America.
The State Department defended its action saying that granting Zhirinovsky a visa does not endorse his views or support his ambitions.
A State Department spokesman referred to the Russian’s positions as “anathema.”
Zhirinovsky is scheduled to speak at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco on Nov. 7, where Jewish groups plan to protest.
The Russian opposition leader also expects to visit Florida and New York, although no public appearances were scheduled in either place as of press time.
Offers to speak at Columbia University in New York and in Los Angeles were withdrawn in the face of increasing opposition.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy here said Zhirinovsky’s visit was private one and that he did not plan to visit Washington or meet with U.S. officials.
Tourist visas are usually good for six months, although the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service could limit a stay.
State Department officials described Zhirinovsky’ visa as “one entry only” and said his movement would not be restricted.
Since his election to the Russian Parliament last December, Zhirinovsky’s highly publicized hate rhetoric has included blaming Jews and minorities for Russia’s problems and calling for a dictatorship. His antics have gotten him thrown out of a number of countries and banned in Germany.
Jewish leaders have said they feared a U.S. visa would give the Russian nationalist leader’s views legitimacy back in Russia.
“We are handing Russia’s most notorious extremist the one commodity he cannot buy: political respectability,” Cooper said in the Wiesenthal Center statement.
Those who signed on to the NCSJ statement include: the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of American, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Coalition for Soviet Jewry.