MOSCOW, Nov. 14 (JTA) – The Russian government appears to have won the latest battle in its ongoing struggle against a Jewish media magnate.
Vladimir Goussinsky ceded control of his media holdings this week to the country’s natural gas monopoly, which is controlled by the Russian government.
Goussinsky, who left the country in July after being jailed briefly on fraud charges, has no plans to return to Russia to face questioning, his lawyers said Monday.
Goussinsky frequently used his independent media outlets to criticize the government, thereby drawing the ire of President Vladimir Putin.
It is unclear how the move by Goussinsky, the leader and financial backer of the Russian Jewish Congress, will affect Russian Jewry.
But after anti-Semitic remarks made last week by the newly elected governor of the Russian region of Kursk, some observers are wondering whether Putin’s campaign against Goussinsky and another leading Jewish tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, is fueling anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semites now “feel that now it has become possible to say anti-Semitic things openly, and they are probing the reaction of society and the Kremlin,” said Tanya Freilikher, a Moscow Jewish activist.
Berezovsky also has decided to remain abroad rather than face possible arrest.
Alexander Mikhailov accused the former governor, Alexander Rutskoy, of being backed by what he called the “All-Russian Jewish Congress.”
He also noted that Rutskoy is Jewish and linked Rutskoy with Berezovsky.
It wasn’t the first time in recent years that Russian politicians have made such comments. During the regime of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, Communist politician Albert Makashov created an outcry with several similar remarks.
The difference now, say some, is that anti-Semitic officials may feel that Putin’s actions against Goussinsky and Berezovsky gives them the tacit approval to spout their vitriol.
Under Yeltsin, anti-Semites knew that their “outbursts were not approved by Yeltsin. They were, in fact, openly defying the Kremlin. This guy is dense and stupid but he apparently thinks it is now OK with the Kremlin to scold and accuse Jews publicly. It is getting normal,” said Alexander Axelrod of the Moscow office of the Anti- Defamation League.
Indeed, Mikhailov also claimed that Putin sent his personal adviser to assist him in his pre-electoral campaigning and is an ally in his drive to “liberate” Russia from “filth.”
Putin’s administration quickly denied these claims.
Ironically, Rutskoy was prevented from running in last month’s regional elections after a local court struck him from the ballot, apparently at the Kremlin’s request. The Kremlin wanted its own candidate to win, but got Mikhailov instead.
For his part, Putin has been quick to praise the role of Jews in Russian society and to condemn anti- Semitism. But in the campaign against Goussinsky and Berezovsky– which Putin apparently sees as a way to muzzle the media and thereby increase his government’s power – the Jewish roots of the media moguls have become a weapon he used against them.
“Their Jewish roots were not only mentioned but sometimes even stressed,” said Alexei Vayman, a 7Moscow university student. “It led to identification in the eyes of the public of these persons with us, with the whole Jewish community, which eventually brought a surge of anti-Semitic feelings.”
The effects, in the short term at least, appear to be clear.
Journalists working for Moscow Jewish radio say that after every attack on the “Jewish oligarchs” – as the two are known – they get lots of angry calls accusing Jews of “robbing Russia and getting away with it.”
Meanwhile, Jewish organizations are calling on Putin to speak out in the latest incident.
The RJC called on the Kremlin not to let Mikhailov’s statements go “unnoticed,” and Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Federation of Jewish Communities said it had sent a letter to Putin expressing its concern in the matter.