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New Reports of Soviet Anti-semitism Show Glasnost Can Be Bad for Jews

August 9, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Despite the Kremlin’s growing tolerance of Jewish cultural and religious life, reports of disturbing anti-Semitic incidents are still coming out of the Soviet Union.

Last month, a 30-year-old Hebrew teacher from the Soviet republic of Moldavia was beaten by three men and told to stop his Jewish activities, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews reported.

According to information obtained by the group, the teacher was abducted while waiting at a bus stop on his way to the city of Kishinev, where he was to give a weekly seminar. His attackers warned him to cease teaching Hebrew and Torah, and said several times that all Jews should be murdered.

Eventually, he was thrown from the kidnappers’ car, and his attackers sped off.

The Union of Councils also reported that Svetlana Mezheborsky, mother of Leningrad refusenik Yuri Mezheborsky, was stabbed by three hooded men who broke into her apartment. Anti-Semitism is thought to be the motive.

The Soviet activist who reported the stabbing said it was possible the attack was perpetrated by the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic group Pamyat.

Pamyat members, he told the Union of Councils, have been demanding names of Jewish residents from the concierges of apartment blocks.


In addition, he said that prospective Pamyat members must submit lists of Jews before they are admitted to the organization. The Union of Councils said that this is the third report it has received of this particular Pamyat initiation requirement.

In the Latvian capital of Riga, activist Boris Gaft told UCSJ’s Chicago affiliate that on July 4, Jewish activists found swastikas and a sign reading “Kill the Jewish People” at the site of a former synagogue where Jews were burned to death in 1941 by the Nazis.

Some activists fear that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or greater openness, which has helped Soviet Jews in many respects, may also be fueling anti-Semitic activity by allowing greater exposure for such groups as Pamyat.

“As social and economic unrest, and ethnic and nationality conflicts mount, and as glasnost permits more public expressions of discontent, the natural tendency to anti-Semitic propaganda and violence is given more opportunity of expression,” said Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils.

In its recent pamphlet entitled “Pamyat: Hatred Under Glasnost,” the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith listed 13 incidences of anti-Semitic graffiti and distribution of anti-Semitic propaganda in the Soviet Union during 1988.

Jerry Strober, spokesman for the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, agreed that recently “groups articulating anti-Semitism have had an opportunity to have a greater degree of exposure.”

But Strober said that, while disturbing, these recent reports did not necessarily point to an escalation of violence against Jews.

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