Russian Jews confronting flurry of anti-Semitic incidents

MOSCOW, Dec. 16 (JTA) — Politicians from across Russia”s political spectrum are criticizing an anti-Semitic comment made by a prominent Communist member of the Russian Parliament. Indeed, even members of the Communist Party slammed their fellow legislator, Viktor Ilyukhin, for blaming influential Jews in President Boris Yeltsin”s inner circle for the “genocide” of ethnic Russians since the collapse of communism. Ilyukhin made the comment at a session of a commission created by members of the Parliament who want to impeach Yeltsin. The incident comes as Russian Jews report continuing occurrences of anti- Semitism. Among the recent developments: * Some residents of the southern Russian city of Krasnodar recently found anti- Semitic leaflets in their mailboxes. According to news reports, the leaflets, calling for pogroms and the expulsion of Jews, also urged the region”s notorious governor, Nikolai Kondratenko, to run for president of Russia. * Some residents of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk recently found their mailboxes stuffed with anti-Semitic leaflets blaming Jews for Russia”s economic hardships. * Russian National Unity, the largest ultranationalist group in the country, said it would ignore Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov”s decision to ban a neo-Nazi gathering. * Hundreds of stickers saying “Jews Are Rubbish” and showing a man throwing a Star of David into a trash can appeared in the northwestern Russian town of Borovichi. These incidents, which came after the Russian Parliament refused to censure Communist lawmaker Albert Makashov for several public anti-Semitic remarks made early this fall and the recent assassination of liberal politician Galina Starovoitova, a longtime supporter of Jewish causes, have heightened concern among Russian Jewish leaders. In reaction to the events, the governing board of the Russian Jewish Congress recently decided to lobby the international community to halt contacts with Russia”s Communist Party because of its failure to censure Makashov. Indeed, some 31 members of Congress sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin this week, urging him to step up his efforts to halt the spread of anti- Semitism. The U.S. congressional letter came in response to that appeal. “We urge you to do your utmost to show General Makashov and all Russians that your government does not condone such hateful behavior, nor will it tolerate the scapegoating of one ethnic population for the complex economic problems of an entire nation,” the letter said, adding that charges should be brought against those inciting “hatred and violence.” Ilyukhin, chairman of the security committee in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, has made several thinly veiled anti-Semitic comments in the past. Last May, following the bombing of a Moscow synagogue, he said in an interview that such attacks on the Jewish community may occur again as a reaction to the fact that the priority for government appointments “is bestowed on one nationality: Jews.” Ilyukhin”s remark went unnoticed, but he made sure Tuesday that his latest slur would not. Before television cameras covering a hearing of the commission debating Yeltsin”s impeachment, he said: “The large-scale genocide would not have been possible if Yeltsin”s inner circle and the country”s previous governments consisted mainly of members of the indigenous peoples, and not exclusively of people of Jewish nationality, though that nation is without a doubt talented, pragmatic and has done much to benefit the Soviet Union.” Communists have long held Yeltsin responsible for the decline in Russia”s population since the collapse of the Soviet Union — and “genocide” against Russians is one of the five charges the committee is considering. First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, a member of the Communist Party, said through his spokesman that remarks criticizing officials on the basis of their ethnicity are “intolerable.” Dmitry Yakushkin, a spokesman for President Yeltsin, reacted to Ilyukhin”s statement by saying that Communists have again showed their true colors. Boris Berezovsky, an influential Jewish business tycoon, who has led the calls to outlaw the party, said Makashov and Ilyukhin should be punished for anti-Semitism. “Their place is in court and not in the Duma,” Berezovsky said. He added that authorities should “resort to force” to fight anti-Semitism and make the existing legislation work. Russia has a legal statute banning the incitement of ethnic strife, and Russia”s Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said Ilyukhin”s remarks may allow him to be prosecuted under this code. But attempts to punish Makashov under the same statute have yet to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the leaflets that appeared in Krasnodar, which called for Jews to be expelled and their homes set on fire, appeared to demonstrate that grass-roots anti-Semitism is still thriving in Russia”s provinces. “Kikes will be annihilated and the victory will be ours,” the unsigned leaflets said, adding that pogroms could help “our beloved leader” Kondratenko. Kondratenko, the governor of the largely agricultural region of Krasnodar, has repeatedly made anti-Semitic, racist and anti-Western statements. He gained nationwide notoriety in Russia for regularly peppering his speeches with attacks on Zionists and “Judeo-Masons,” whom he blames for all of Russia”s troubles. Russia”s Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General”s Office announced recently that they were considering the possibility of investigating Kondratenko”s anti-Semitism and pressing criminal charges against him. It is not clear if the anti-Semitic leaflets had his backing. Krasnodar Mayor Valery Samoilenko ordered an investigation into the incident. There are indications that the distribution of the pamphlets could be a reflection of an ongoing dispute between Kondratenko and Samoilenko, the mayor of the region”s largest city, who earlier ordered an investigation to be launched against the governor. A day before the leaflets were distributed, an official newspaper in Krasnodar that supports Kondratenko warned against a “provocation” that was being prepared to harm the governor”s reputation. Yuri Teitelbaum, head of the Russian Jewish Congress regional branch in Krasnodar, said in a telephone interview that the Jewish community remains relatively calm in the wake of the incident. “People were more scared by a press report about an upcoming provocation than by the leaflets themselves,”” he said. The Krasnodar region is home to some 3,000 Jews — one-half of whom live in the city of Krasnodar. At the same time, not all of the news regarding Jewish life in Russia is negative. According to Teitelbaum, several public events celebrating Chanukah in Krasnodar occurred without incident. And in Moscow, a Russian man was charged with inciting ethnic and religious strife for making an anti-Semitic speech in front of a Jewish synagogue in Moscow after a bomb went off there in May. The May 13 blast at the Marina Roscha synagogue left no injuries but caused serious damage to the building.

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