MOSCOW, Jan. 7 (JTA) — A Jewish leader in Belarus is expressing fear and frustration following the firebombing of a Minsk synagogue late last month.
“Jews once more felt themselves completely unprotected,” said Yakov Basin, one of the leaders of Belarus’ 60,000-strong Jewish community.
On the final night of Chanukah in late December, unidentified arsonists smashed windows and threw a Molotov cocktail bottle into the Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Belarus’ capital city.
The building was saved only thanks to the quick reaction of a security guard, who extinguished the flames. Police have launched an investigation, but have yet to arrest any suspects.
The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said recently, “We won’t let anyone harm our Jews.”
Last July, Lukashenko — who openly expresses his desire to reconstitute the Soviet Union — joined one of Russia’s chief rabbis, Berel Lazar, and other Jewish leaders in Minsk to dedicate a memorial to Jews killed during World War II.
However, periodic anti-Semitic attacks appear to go unpunished.
Earlier last year the second Minsk synagogue, which belongs to another Chasidic community, was attacked. No suspects have been arrested in that incident, either.
Nahum Baran, leader of Minsk’s Lubavitch community, said anti-Semitic outbursts are not increasing in frequency.
Basin, who heads the Belarus bureau of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, agrees, but says the problem is “the clear-cut unwillingness of the state to tackle the problem of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in general.”
Last May, Basin and his group tried to sue the Belarus-based publishers of an openly anti-Semitic book, “War According to the Laws of Meanness,” which described various “Jewish crimes,” including a purported Jewish conspiracy for world domination.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the book was “academic literature.”
About 3,500 Jews are estimated to have emigrated from Belarus last year, roughly 6 percent of the Jewish population. Of this number, 2,500 went to Israel, the remainder to the United States or Germany.
Despite the anti-Semitism, sources say economic problems — such as rising unemployment, inflation and Soviet-style shortages of food products — are probably the major driving forces behind Jewish emigration.