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Russian Legislature Queries Acting Premier’s Link to Israel

Russian lawmakers want to be sure that their next prime minister is not an Israeli.

The speaker of the Russian Parliament’s lower house, Gennady Seleznev, announced last Friday that the body has requested information from the government on whether acting prime minister Sergei Kiriyenko has Israeli as well as Russian citizenship.

Kiriyenko was named by President Boris Yeltsin as prime minister two weeks ago after Yeltsin dismissed his entire Cabinet. He is awaiting parliamentary approval.

The State Duma, as the house is known, faced a Friday deadline for approving or rejecting the president’s choice.

In a television interview following his appointment as acting premier, Kiriyenko, who previously headed Russia’s Fuel and Energy Ministry, was asked about his ethnic background and replied that his father is Jewish and his mother is Russian. He added that his surname is Ukrainian and that he was born in Abkhazia, a region in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Kiriyenko’s parents divorced when he was 13. His father, Vladilen Izraitel, died a few years ago.

Kiriyenko, 35, has been criticized by some officials and opposition legislators for an apparent lack of experience.

But the Duma’s move surprised many observers. Kiriyenko has never expressed any public interest in Judaism and has reportedly never visited the Jewish state.

One Jewish activist who insisted on anonymity said that a “common prejudice that every Jew must be a loyal Israeli citizen” led to the request.

“This prejudice is apparently shared by many Communist and ultranationalist lawmakers,” the activist said.

The Israeli Embassy in Moscow said on Tuesday it was not aware of the Duma’s request.

The request is reminiscent of a furor that erupted in 1996 regarding a Russian official’s Israeli citizenship.

That scandal involved Boris Berezovsky, one of the most influential Russian tycoons, who was appointed to be deputy secretary of Russia’s National Security Council. It was subsequently discovered that Berezovsky held Israeli citizenship.

In the wake of those reports, Berezovsky had his Israeli passport, which he had acquired in 1993, annulled.

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