MOSCOW, Oct. 23 (JTA) A Russian Interior Ministry’s search of the Moscow Choral Synagogue without a warrant is being seen as part of the government’s ongoing campaign against Russian Jewish tycoon Vladimir Goussinsky.
The Oct. 19 search of the synagogue, where Goussinsky’s Russian Jewish Congress has its offices, came while RJC leaders were visiting Israel on a one-day solidarity mission.
The search was stopped after 10 hours after media crews showed up to film the incident, and one of the three investigators involved in the incident has apologized twice.
Still, the search was a “rude violation of the law” and a “totally unprofessional action,” Henry Reznik, the chief lawyer for the RJC, said last Friday.
Goussinsky, a political opponent of President Vladimir Putin, has been living abroad since he was arrested and released during the summer.
Since the government’s attacks on Goussinsky began earlier his year, the campaign against him has carried a certain amount of worry for Russian Jews if only because Goussinsky, who operates the Media-Most financial and media empires, is so involved with and linked to the fortunes of Russian Jewry.
Last week’s bizarre events were no different.
The investigators were apparently interested in two different things. First, they wanted to check the “status” of the security guards at the synagogue, who are paid for by Goussinsky.
Second, they were interested in the synagogue’s financial records to see whether Goussinsky, who has lived in Europe since the summer, is laundering any money through the synagogue.
Both of these justifications are “nonsense,” said Lev Krichevsky, the director of the Moscow office of the Anti-Defamation League.
Goussinsky is one of the main financial supporters of the synagogue and Moscow’s Jewish community but the sums are too small $400,000 to $600,000 per year to be a serious channel for money laundering, say observers.
Human rights groups dismiss the possibility that the ongoing violence in the Middle East is connected to the incident and the fact that the mission was in Israel is a coincidence, they say.
But that the move was taken while RJC officials were abroad is not, they add.
During the search, which apparently lasted 10 hours, those affiliated with the synagogue in Russia called Israel to inform Goussinsky and the other leaders of what was taking place.
They, in turn, contacted local media crews and attorneys, who apparently flustered the investigators, who eventually called off the search.
The investigators apparently left with a few relatively unimportant photocopied documents.
Some are saying the incident again calls into question the commitment of Putin to fight anti-Semitism.
“There’s a big gap between Putin’s extemely generous and counter- anti-Semitism rhetoric and his failure in following through with actions,” said Micah Naftalin, the national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.
“It’s another example that people under Putin the people whom he has leverage on continue to behave in anti-Semitic ways with impunity.”
Incidents like these heighten the uneasiness of the average Russian Jew, said Krichevsky.
“I’m not saying that every Russian Jew associates him or herself with Goussinsky, but these persistent attacks on Goussinsky do not help the security of the Russian Jewish community in general,” he said.
But if there’s a silver lining in the incident, these groups say, it’s that Russian Jewish leaders were able to muster the attention necessary to halt the search.
“It shows how connected the Jewish community is now,” said Mark Levin, the executive director of the NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia.
(JTA staff writer Peter Ephross contributed to this report.)