Local Jewish Leaders in Russia Want Help in Curbing Anti-semitism

Local Jewish leaders in a Russian region have appealed to national Jewish groups for support in their fight against what they say is a mounting wave of anti-Semitism.

On Jan. 19, windows were broken at the Jewish Community Center in Ulyanovsk, 430 miles east of Moscow. Police arrested three individuals, believed to be members of a local skinhead gang, for their involvement in the attack.

No injuries were reported in the incident and the Jewish facility suffered minimal damage.

But local Jewish leaders fear the community has become particularly vulnerable as a result of its attempts to attract public attention to earlier cases of anti-Semitism in Ulyanovsk, which is home to several thousand Jews

Last spring, a Jewish youth leader, Alexander Golynsky, was severely beaten by a group of extremist youths. He received serious injuries and immigrated to Israel upon recovery.

A few days after the beating, the Ulyanovsk JCC was vandalized. The words “Kikes to Israel” were painted on the fence surrounding the building.

Igor Dabakarov, a community leader, says the recent attack may have been a response to a case now being brought against a former newspaper editor whose newspaper had published anti-Semitic articles.

“Of course, we cannot tell for sure but that’s the way many people here see it,” Dabakarov, chairman of the Shalom Society for Jewish Culture and Education, told JTA in a telephone interview from Ulyanovsk.

Earlier this month, a local court held preliminary hearings in the trial of the former editor, but the case was postponed so the investigation could gather additional evidence.

This week, the Jewish community called on Russian Jewish organizations to send a rabbi and a lawyer to the region to help the community defend its point when the case reopens in court.

The case was brought against Sergei Seryubin, who is charged with inciting ethnic tensions in the articles he wrote last year in Pravoslavny Simbirsk, a local newspaper connected to the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia’s largest religious sect.

One of the articles accused Jews of plotting to dominate the world and said Judaism teaches its followers to kill Christians. In the article, Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, was called “a Satanist.”

A board of experts assigned by prosecutors confirmed that the articles contained inflammatory material. But Seryubin said in a television interview that he had committed no crime and that he had defended his own faith in a “theological dispute” with Judaism.

“They have their religion, and we have ours,” he told TVS television.

The case — a rare instance in Russia of authorities prosecuting people for hate speech — was opened after the Jewish community complained to officials last year.

There was a slight increase in the number of cases relating to anti-Semitism opened in Russia last year after new legislation on extremism was enacted, said Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, affiliated with the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

But law enforcement agencies have shown little interest in bringing such cases to court, Brod said.

Jewish leaders in Ulyanovsk say the Seryubin case — even after it reopens — could drag on.

Alexander Axelrod, director of the Moscow office of the Anti-Defamation League, said that judging by similar cases in other Russian cities, court hearings could last for months, or even years.

“This case can end in a fine, a probation sentence maximum,” Axelrod said. “From what we saw in some other instances, it could be dropped altogether if the court decides the editor had no intention of inciting hate.”

In Ulyanovsk, the local Russian Orthodox diocese tried to distance itself from anti-Semitic articles and sent a letter of apology to the Jewish community. The newspaper’s sponsors, which include the local diocese and the regional administration, fired Seryubin from his editor’s position shortly after the Jewish community complained.

The newspaper continues to be published, but the Jewish community said that it has not published any anti-Semitic material since Seryubin was fired.

Dabakarov said the Jewish community experienced a backlash after it helped bring charges against the editor.

A group of Orthodox Christians and Ukrainian nationalists picketed the court this month, some shouting anti-Semitic slogans.

And a local priest, Alexei Skala, warned in televised remarks that anti-Jewish violence in Ulyanovsk is possible should the editor be convicted.

“The situation is becoming very serious,” Dabakarov said. “We need some qualified legal support in this case, otherwise the defense will be successful in trying to convince the court and the public that this is the case of the Jewish community and law enforcement organs against the Orthodox Christianity.”

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