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Russian Jews Confronting Flurry of Anti-semitic Incidents

December 16, 1998
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A flurry of anti-Semitic incidents across Russia has prompted members of the U.S. Congress to press the Russian government to take action.

Some 31 members of Congress sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin this week, urging him to step up his efforts to halt the spread of anti- Semitism.

The letter comes as Russian Jews report continuing occurrences of anti- Semitism, including:

Some residents of the southern Russian city of Krasnodar recently found anti- Semitic leaflets in their mailboxes. According to news reports, the leaflets, calling for pogroms and the expulsion of Jews, also urged the region’s notorious governor, Nikolai Kondratenko, to run for president of Russia.

Some residents of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk recently found their mailboxes stuffed with anti-Semitic leaflets blaming Jews for Russia’s economic hardships.

Russian National Unity, the largest ultranationalist group in the country, said it would ignore Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s banning of a neo-Nazi gathering.

Hundreds of stickers saying “Jews Are Rubbish” and showing a man throwing a Star of David into a trash can appeared in the northwestern Russian town of Borovichi.

A prominent Communist member of the Russian Parliament blamed influential Jews in Yeltsin’s inner circle for the “genocide” of ethnic Russians since the collapse of communism. Viktor Ilyukhin made this comment at a session of a commission created by members of the Parliament who want to impeach Yeltsin.

These incidents, which came after the Russian Parliament refused to censure Communist lawmaker Albert Makashov for several public anti-Semitic remarks early this fall and the recent assassination of liberal politician Galina Starovoitova, a longtime supporter of Jewish causes, have heightened concern among Russian Jewish leaders.

In reaction to the events, the governing board of the Russian Jewish Congress recently decided to lobby the international community to halt contacts with Russia’s Communist Party because of its failure to censure Makashov.

The U.S. congressional letter came in response to that appeal.

“We urge you to do your utmost to show General Makashov and all Russians that your government does not condone such hateful behavior, nor will it tolerate the scapegoating of one ethnic population for the complex economic problems of an entire nation,” the letter said, adding that charges should be brought against those inciting “hatred and violence.”

The leaflets that appeared in Krasnodar, which called for Jews to be expelled and their homes set on fire, appear to fall under this category.

“Kikes will be annihilated and the victory will be ours,” the unsigned leaflets said, adding that pogroms could help “our beloved leader” Kondratenko.

Kondratenko, the governor of the largely agricultural region of Krasnodar, has repeatedly made anti-Semitic, racist and anti-Western statements.

He gained nationwide notoriety in Russia for regularly peppering his speeches with attacks on Zionists and “Judeo-Masons,” whom he blames for all of Russia’s troubles. Russia’s Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office announced recently that they were considering the possibility of investigating Kondratenko’s anti-Semitism and press criminal charges against him.

It is not clear if the anti-Semitic leaflets had his backing.

Krasnodar Mayor Valery Samoilenko ordered an investigation into the incident. There are indications that the distribution of the pamphlets could be a reflection of an ongoing dispute between Kondratenko and Samoilenko, the region’s largest mayor, who earlier ordered an investigation to be launched against the governor.

A day before the leaflets were distributed, an official newspaper in Krasnodar that supports Kondratenko warned against a “provocation” that was being prepared to harm the governor’s reputation.

Yuri Teitelbaum, head of the Russian Jewish Congress’ regional branch in Krasnodar, said in a telephone interview that the Jewish community remains relatively calm in the wake of the incident.

“People were more scared by a press report about an upcoming provocation than by the leaflets themselves,” he said.

The Krasnodar region is home to some 3,000 Jews — one-half of whom live in the city of Krasnodar.

At the same time, not all of the news regarding Jewish life in Russia is negative.

According to Teitelbaum, several public events celebrating Chanukah in Krasnodar occurred without incident.

And in Moscow, a Russian man was charged with inciting ethnic and religious strife for making an anti-Semitic speech in front of a Jewish synagogue in Moscow after a bomb went off there in May. The May 13 blast at the Marina Roscha synagogue left no injuries but caused serious damage to the building.

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