Menu JTA Search

Russian prime minister pledges to ‘eradicate’ ant-Semitic violence

WASHINGTON, July 28 (JTA) — In Russia’s strongest condemnation to date of an upsurge in anti-Jewish violence, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin is pledging to “eradicate” anti-Semitic and racist acts. Speaking with Jewish leaders Tuesday at the conclusion of a two-day visit to Washington, Stepashin condemned “radical politicians” in Russia who he said were using anti-Semitism “for their own purposes,” according to those who met with him. “We will not allow these people to take power in Russia,” he said. After dodging a reporter’s question earlier in the day about what the Russian government was doing to counter the rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence, Stepashin spoke forcefully about the need for a government response. “This brutality will be eradicated — and I am not afraid of this word — eradicated by our security agencies,” he told the delegation led by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Our country and the Jews suffered too much from racism during [World War II] for modern Russia to permit present-day fascists a free hand,” Stepashin said. The assurances were welcomed by Jewish officials, who had criticized the Russian government for failing to make public declarations against anti-Semitism following several recent incidents. Last weekend, a bomb was discovered and defused inside a Moscow synagogue minutes before a ceremony was to begin in the synagogue’s main hall. Earlier this month, a Moscow Jewish leader was stabbed inside a synagogue by a youth with a swastika painted on his chest. Stepashin said he and Russian President Boris Yeltsin had discussed the problem with Russia’s internal security service and that measures were being taken to secure synagogues. “Overall he responded affirmatively and strongly, and the question now is the deeds,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. “The question is will they sustain the protection of the institutions, will he and others make the same kind of public declarations in Moscow and will we see more arrests,” Hoenlein said, adding that “it’s the arrest and convictions that really send a message that they’re serious.” Mark Levin, executive director of the NCSJ, said the delegation was “encouraged by the message that he gave us,” adding, “We tried to impress upon him that this was a message that needed to be heard not in the United States but in Russia.” Jewish leaders were not the only ones to raise concern about the surge in anti-Semitic activity. President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and members of Congress also raised the issue in meetings with Stepashin this week. Stepashin was also pressed on the issue of Russian transfers of sophisticated weapons technology to Iran. He acknowledged the importance of the concern and told Jewish leaders he had discussed weapons proliferation in his meetings with Clinton and Gore.