MOSCOW (Dec. 24)
Fanning the already smoldering flames of anti-Semitism in Russia, the leader of Russia’s Communist Party has declared in a manifesto that the “spread of Zionism” is “one of the reasons for the current catastrophic condition of the country.”
But at the same time, Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of Russia’s largest party, condemned anti-Semitism, drawing a distinction between Jews and Zionism, which he called “a blood relative of fascism.”
The manifesto was released in response to a request from President Boris Yeltsin’s administration and the Russian Justice Ministry, which wanted to clarify the Communist Party’s position on anti-Semitism.
But the document’s release has only heightened concern about anti-Semitism in Russia and increased international condemnation over the issue.
Indeed, U.N. Watch, an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, called on the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to denounce all members of Russia’s Communist Party who made anti-Semitic statements.
And Jewish leaders in Russia expressed their outrage at the document, which they said was written in the spirit of the 19th-century canard, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The document’s release is the latest in a series of anti-Semitic developments that have plagued Russia since the economy began to deteriorate sharply earlier this year — along with Yeltsin’s health.
Two Communist lawmakers, Albert Makashov and Viktor Ilyukhin, made several anti-Semitic remarks in public; a lawmaker known for her support of Jewish causes was assassinated; and anti-Semitic literature and graffiti appeared in at least two Russian cities.
In a move underlining the seriousness with which the government takes these incidents, Yeltsin’s chief of staff convened a meeting of top security and defense officials last Monday to discuss the situation and the related problem of political extremism.
The manifesto released this week “declares anti-Semitism as the official policy of the Russian Communist Party,” said Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt. “No one is going to question anymore what ideology this party represents,” he said.
“This is clearly an anti-Semitic position,” said Mikhail Chlenov, president of the Va’ad, an umbrella group of Russian Jewish organizations. “Zyuganov has shown the most ugly prejudices of anti-Semitic mythology.”
But despite the tone of the document, one Russian newspaper said the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism would likely reduce pressure emanating from Yeltsin’s administration to crack down on the Communist Party.
A leading Moscow daily wrote that the Kremlin may not be fully satisfied with the way Zyuganov tried to quell the scandal over anti-Semitism by playing with the words “Zionists” and “Jews.” But Vremya-MN said that by making the distinction, Zyuganov reduced the possibility of federal authorities placing political and legal pressure on his party.
In the document, Zyuganov said the only difference between Zionism and Nazism is that Hitler attempted to subjugate the world openly, while Zionists, “appearing under the mask of Jewish nationalism, act secretly.”
He added that the public attention paid to these remarks by members of his parliamentary faction were attempts on the part of the Russian media to stir up ethnic tensions to divert attention from Russia’s current economic problems.
The manifesto did not make specific mention of the anti-Semitic remarks made by Makashov and Ilyukhin. Instead, Zyuganov equivocally referred to “hasty remarks by some Communists that run counter” to the party’s position on the national question.
Zyuganov wrote that, according to his party, Jews in Russia have three options: leave the country, live in Russia as members of the Jewish community while considering Russia as their “only motherland,” or assimilate into the ethnic Russian population or any other ethnicity living in Russia.
During the years of Soviet rule, authorities often drew the same distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that Zyuganov made in the manifesto.
From the late 1940s on, the Soviet propaganda machine worked hard to spread the myth of a worldwide Zionist plot. The campaign was especially intense after 1967, when the Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations with Israel.
The situation changed in the late 1980s, during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev. Still, Zionism remains a topic to avoid for many Russian media outlets, and recent opinion surveys showed that the majority of Russians do not have an understanding of Zionism.
“Zyuganov has clearly demonstrated the ignorance of the Communist leadership, which lacks an elementary knowledge of history and politics,” said Tankred Golenpolsky, founder of the Jewish weekly newspaper Evreyskaya Gazeta.
The manifesto was issued shortly after the Kremlin vowed to crack down on anti- Semitism and political extremism.
On Monday, representatives from the Main Military Inspectorate and the Security Council were sent to several Russian regions to check whether Yeltsin’s instructions on combating political extremism and ethnic intolerance are being followed.