Belarus Assures Jewish Heads: Anti-semitism is Unacceptable

The government of Belarus has assured visiting Jewish leaders that the country would not tolerate anti-Semitism.

In a series of historic meetings, President Alyadsandr Lukashenka and Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir also said that previously Jewish-owned properties would be returned to the Jewish community.

If a specific site cannot be returned, an alternative site will be given in exchange, they said.

The Jewish delegation consisted of leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

The visit to Belarus was the first stop of a mission that included visits with government and Jewish leaders in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In Moscow, the group was scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev on Monday.

In Belarus last week, the group met with Leonid Levin, the head of the Belarussian Jewish community, and the Israeli and American ambassadors to Belarus, Elie Valk and Kenneth Yalovitz.

Jewish leaders said they were pleased with the talks in Belarus and felt that much was accomplished, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said in a telephone interview from St. Petersburg last week.

Hoenlein called the discussions a “Great accomplishment.”

“We made a tremendous impact,” he said, adding that the Jews in Belarus “are hungry for contact with the Jewish communities of Israel and the United States.”

About 100,000 Jews now live in Belarus.

During their meeting, the Jewish delegation urged the president to adopt legislation to end all ethnic hatred. Lukashenka responded that he would do so through legislation, Hoenlein said.

The prime minister told the delegation that his government would look for a site for a Jewish day school, which now shares facilities with a public school.

The president expressed his support for the Middle East peace process and pledged that Belarus would remain a non-nuclear state.

The delegation attended a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration in the city of Mogilev, and a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Minsk.

In St. Petersburg, Hoenlein reported that the Jewish community was still reeling from last week’s theft of five Torahs from the St. Petersburg Synagogue.

Hoenlein said whereabouts of the Torahs was still unknown and the Jewish community of St. Petersburg was feeling “more outrage than fear.”

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