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Congress urged to press Russia to curb anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (JTA) — Alarmed by the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in Russia, Jewish officials are calling on Congress to bring the issue to the forefront of bilateral relations with Moscow. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations European Affairs subcommittee Wednesday, the officials said that Congress can play a key role in addressing the problem by giving it a high profile, encouraging Russian leaders to speak out against intolerance and supporting those who are trying to move Russia toward a more democratized, pluralistic society. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, called for careful monitoring of the situation and said the U.S. government must show “zero tolerance for mainstream acceptance” in Russia of anti-Semitism. Mark Levin, director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said, “The U.S. must signal to Russia that we stand by a strong commitment to human rights and we are ready to assist them in every way possible in building the foundations of democracy.” Russia’s unstable political situation, coupled with a deteriorating economic climate, has led political parties on both the right and left to blame Jews for society’s ills. Anti-Jewish rhetoric, Nazi-style demonstrations, desecrated cemeteries and synagogue bombings have sown the seeds of fear among the estimated 450,000 to 600,000 Jews living in Russia. The Clinton administration has raised the issue in a series of high-level meetings with Russian officials, prompting Russian President Boris Yeltsin and others to speak out. But Jewish leaders say Russian government officials, particularly Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, must do more to counter the anti-Semitic upsurge. The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), said, as he has in the past, that the issue of Russia’s mistreatment of Jews should be linked to U.S. foreign aid to Moscow. “Our ability to assist Russia is really predicated on their ability to live up to their agreements on human rights and religious freedom,” Smith said. Smith won approval for an amendment to last year’s foreign aid bill that linked Russia’s aid with its record regarding a controversial law limiting religious freedom in Russia. The Jewish officials who testified, including Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, did not go as far as Smith in suggesting that foreign aid to Russia be linked to its actions in curbing anti-Semitism. Levin said in an interview that kind of approach remains a “dilemma” in light of the important role aid to Russia plays in helping to promote democracy.