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Senate Warns Yeltsin to Combat Anti-semitism or Aid Could Be Cut

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All but one of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate are threatening to end economic and political support for Russia unless President Boris Yeltsin confronts the rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric there.

“The United States predicates its support for democratic institutions in Russia upon unwavering opposition to anti-Semitism at any level,” the senators wrote in a letter to Yeltsin, which was expected to be sent as early as this week.

“Over the years it has not been unusual for the United States to act on this subject, linking American foreign policy with what should now be regarded as a cornerstone of human rights policies in Russia,” the letter said.

In the 1980s the United States linked trade relations with what was then the Soviet Union to its willingness to allow Jews to emigrate.

While few expect Congress to cut off U.S. aid to Russia, the letter “clearly says, `Enough. You’ve got to step forward,'” said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

AJCommittee and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry actively lobbied senators to sign the letter, which was sponsored by Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

“It is imperative that you demonstrate, through emphatic disagreement with those who espouse anti-Semitism in Russia, your understanding of the importance the Russian government places upon religious freedom,” the senators wrote.

While Yeltsin administration officials have made statements against anti- Semitism, the senators said that two recent explosions near Moscow synagogues and an attack against a synagogue in Birobidzhan mean that more public condemnation is necessary.

As Russia enters an election campaign, “there may well be temptations to sound ultra-nationalist themes that attempt to blame the small Jewish community for Russia’s problems.”

Russia has scheduled parliamentary elections in December and a presidential contest next June.

Jewish activists, including Nebraska rabbis, and senators are still working to convince Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to sign the letter.

But a spokesperson for Hagel, citing the senator’s policy not to send letters to foreign heads of state regarding their domestic policy, said he would not sign the letter.

“Anti-Semitism and discrimination in any form should not be tolerated,” said Deb Fiddelke, stressing that Hagel’s decision has nothing to do with the letter’s content.

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