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Russian Jewish Groups Criticize Legislator’s Move Against Chief Rabbi

April 13, 2006
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Russian Jewish leaders are criticizing a lawmaker’s motion aimed at investigating how one of Russia’s chief rabbis received Russian citizenship. The development concerns Berel Lazar, the chief Lubavitch emissary in the former Soviet Union and head of the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities, the region’s largest Jewish group.

Last Friday, the Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, authorized a committee to file an inquiry with the authorities to clarify why Lazar, an Italian-born U.S. citizen, was made a Russian citizen without undergoing required naturalization procedures.

The motion was proposed by Boris Vinogradov, a member of the nationalist Motherland Party.

On Monday, the party disassociated itself from the development by saying it never authorized Vinogradov to raise the issue in the Duma.

“Such an inquiry has one single goal — to offend to Jewish community,” said Boruch Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities.

Gorin also said the fact that such motion was proposed by a Motherland deputy came as no surprise to his group because over the last year this party has been demonstrating its “nationalist leaning.”

Another religious umbrella group, usually seen as the federation’s rival over leadership issues in the community, also blasted the move as anti-Semitic.

In a statement on Monday, the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Communities, or KEROOR, criticized what it said was “anti-Semitic motivation” of the motion.

“The leadership of KEROOR decisively condemns anti-Semitic motivation of such moves that are aimed at undermining the civil society in the country,” Vladimir Pliss, a KEROOR spokesman, wrote in a statement.

The circumstances behind Lazar’s naturalization had to deal with his group’s rivalry with KEROOR, led by Russia’s other chief rabbi, Adolph Shayevich.

Lazar, who has lived in Russia since the early 1990s, became a Russian citizen in May 2000.

A few days after President Vladimir Putin signed the edict granting Lazar a Russian passport, Lazar was elected the chief rabbi of Russia. Lazar’s position was sen as an open challenge to Shayevich, who was associated with Vladimir Goussinsky, a Jewish leader and media mogul and an open critic of Putin.

It is not clear why the issue of Lazar’s citizenship was raised now, almost six years after the event.

But Gorin suggested the development could have been motivated by the Motherland Party’s desire to retaliate against the federation, which is often critical of the party’s nationalist views.

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