MOSCOW (May. 16)
A list of Russian billionaires that features at least nine Jewish tycoons has some Russian Jews worried that the list may reinforce anti-Semitic stereotypes.
“In the eyes of the public, this creates a wrong impression that Jews in Russia are all extremely rich, and our community is prospering,” said Mark Birman, 74, a retired Soviet Army colonel, about the list published May 13 by Forbes magazine.
Heading the 36 names in the Forbes rankings are three Jewish oil magnates, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Roman Abramovich and Viktor Vekselberg. The wealth of Russia’s 36 billionaires is $110 billion.
Tatyana Sakhnovich, who works at the Moscow office of the Reform movement, agrees with Birman.
“I don’t think such news is very good for the Jews,” she said. “This can give another excuse for those who share anti-Semitic stereotypes, for the aggressive part of the society who already feel a certain bias against the Jews.”
Sakhnovich, 30, said she is also concerned about the safety of Jewish institutions.
According to Alexander Brod, the head of the European Union’s project to monitor anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia, the notion that Jews are disproportionately represented among Russia’s business elite has long been a staple of anti-Semitic propaganda.
But some Jews said they are proud that some members of their group have assumed leading roles in the business community.
“I don’t think we have to be worried by this,” said Olga Kerbeleva, a technician with a research institute at the Russian Academy of Science.
“When a Jew is ahead in something, there will always be people who take this as a personal offense,” she said. “To the contrary, I feel sort of proud that there are some Jews among the business leaders. Is it bad that whenever they are given a chance, Jews can take leading roles?”
Many of the tycoons who made it to the Forbes list were outraged by the very fact of the publication, Russian media reported.
“The appearance in such ratings can make a businessman a target for the law-enforcement agencies,” one billionaire, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Vedomosti newspaper.
This wariness is easy to understand; many members of Russia’s business elite remain fearful after Khodorkovsky’s arrest last year.
Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $15.2 billion, remains in prison pending his trial on tax and fraud charges.
On May 12, the Moscow City Court ruled the founder and ex-chief of the Yukos oil giant must stay behind bars until May 25.
Khodorkovsky’s multiple appeals for a release from pre-trial detention have been repeatedly denied on the grounds that he would flee the country or pressure witnesses if freed.