(JTA) — Demonstrators protesting the allocation of land to the Jewish community in the Russian city of Perm demanded the outlawing of the Chabad movement.
More than 100 people attended the rally near the area that municipal authorities in Perm, which is located 870 miles east of Moscow, designated for transfer without charge to the local Jewish community that is headed by a Chabad rabbi. They sang a song titled “Holy War,” a patriotic tune widely identified with Russia’s fight against Nazi Germany.
Unrest around the Jewish community of Perm has been brewing for years amid accusations made in 2013 that the local Jewish community made unauthorized use of a local theater. Unidentified individuals that year tried to set fire to the local synagogue.
On Saturday, the protesters showed up with signs reading “Chabad out” and “liberate us Russians from Chabad.” One protester held a placard that read “Chabad settlement is over the line: 1547,” an apparent reference to the decision that year by Ivan the Terrible, a grand prince of Moscow, to ban Jews from entering or living in his kingdom because they “bring about great evil.”
But participants insisted they are protesting against Chabad specifically and not against Jews in general, the Russian news site Ura reported.
Boruch Gorin, a senior Chabad figure and aide to one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, Berel Lazar, said the 2013 campaign against Chabad in Perm was a thin disguise for anti-Semitism.
“The attempt to present Chabad as one thing and the Jewish community as another is false,” Gorin told JTA.
In Russia, Chabad is the largest Jewish movement with a presence in over 100 cities. Under Vladimir Putin, land has been allocated free of charge to Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith and community organizations, often as restitution of property stolen in Soviet times.
Separately, Putin on Tuesday said that “Russian Jewish organizations are making a substantial contribution in the cause of domestic political stability in Russia, for which we are very grateful” during a meeting in Moscow with Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress.
On Friday, Lazar urged Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to stamp out anti-Semitism in government, which was a reaction to the April 10 statement on Jews by Vladislav Vikhorev, a candidate for Putin’s United Russia who is running for state lawmaker in the Legislative Assembly of Chelyabinsk Oblast, a federal region located nearly 1,000 miles from Moscow. Lazar credited Putin’s government with doing more than any of its predecessors to curb anti-Semitism.
During a debate in the city of Chelyabinsk, Vikhorev said that Jews in the 1990s were behind a “Jewish revolution that put Russian sovereignty itself on the brink of extinction,” which he said was “a well-planned, well-designed program of destruction of national culture, national education, national production and the national financial system,” according to the news website Apostroph.