In the weeks preceding Russia’s parliamentary elections, two Russian newspapers attacked an American Jewish human rights organization, charging it with meddling in the internal affairs of Russia.
The organization targeted, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, denounced the charges as “reminiscent of the Soviet era.”
In the first published attack on the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the Moscow weekly newspaper Novaya Ezhednevnaya Gazeta, or New Daily Newspaper, published on Dec. 2 private correspondence of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that the newspaper obtained through an unnamed channel.
The correspondence quoted in the newspaper, which is considered by many Muscovites to be a democratically oriented publication, included a 1994 letter from the USCJ seeking financial support from the United States for the group’s activities supporting the anti-fascist movement in Russia.
The funding request, which was ultimately denied by American officials, was denounced by the newspaper, which described it as an attempt to “openly influence Russian politics” and which said that Russian security forces should investigate the USCJ’s activities.
Less than two weeks after the article appeared, the ultranationalist newspaper Zavtra, or Tomorrow, published an article titled “Scoundrels” that attacked the USCJ and its ties to Russian democratic figures.
The articles were used by the Communist Party to attack democratic parliamentary candidates who were linked in the newspaper accounts to the UCSJ.
On the day before Sunday’s elections, lawyer Yuri Ivanov, a Communist leader, attacked former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, the leader of the democratic Russia’s Choice Party, as “a Westernizer.”
In a pre-election debate with Gaidar that was broadcast live, Ivan referred to the article, charging that Gaidar and his party were “sponsored by the West, as it was recently proved by Novaya Ezhednevnaya Gazeta.”
Officials of USCJ vehemently denied the charges.
“It’s no coincidence that these articles appeared just prior to the Russian parliamentary elections,” said Micah Naftalin, national director of the UCSJ.
After the first article appeared, the group’s Moscow bureau director Alexander Lieberman and anti-fascist coordinator Sergey Simyonov issued a joint statement rebutting the newspaper’s charges. “We hope that such calls for repression of human rights activists will not become systematic and that the human rights activists themselves will not have to go underground again,” they said.