Sunday, January 15, 2006

Crackdown on anti-Semitism

Synagogue slashings spur drive


MOSCOW - Pogroms and purges of Jews are a thing of the past in Russia, but the bloodstains on the floor of Moscow's Chabad Bronnaya synagogue last week were a reminder that anti-Semitism is very much alive.

In the aftermath of an attack Wednesday in which a knife-wielding man shouting, "I will kill Jews" slashed eight worshipers, Jewish leaders warned that official indifference is fueling a wave of hate attacks.

The leaders called for a crackdown on aggressive nationalist and fascist groups that have mushroomed in recent years.

"We do not feel that Jews have it worse in Russia than other people, we are living comfortably here but the country is suffering and we are suffering with it," Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar said.

"The inadequate nature of the police's actions against these groups is clear ... they must not be ignored anymore," he added.

The Moscow Bureau of Human Rights estimates that Russia is home to some 50,000 skinheads and numerous neo-Nazi organizations.

Rights activists say such groups are emboldened by mild prosecution of hate crimes, and they complain that Nazi and other extremist literature is sold freely.

The suspect in Wednesday's attack, identified as Alexander Koptsev, 20, was reading a book about Jews betraying Russia shortly before the assault, his father said.

Among the eight men Koptsev wounded before a rabbi's son wrestled him to the ground were an American, an Israeli and a Tajik, officials said. Four of the victims were in serious condition.

"Until yesterday, I felt completely safe, but things have gotten serious now," said Nadav Zavilinsky, a 21-year-old religious student who witnessed the bloodshed.

The Russian government condemned the attack, and Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin promised to deploy officers to help protect synagogues.

Lazar and Pronin also agreed in a meeting to set up a joint working group to monitor xenophobic propaganda and extremist groups, Lazar's office said in a statement.

A million Jews live in Russia, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities, and the Jewish community has experienced a revival after a wave of emigration to Israel and other countries before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of racially motivated attacks, including the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, have occurred in recent years in violence aimed at Jews as well as dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains region.

Last January, in what was seen as a step forward, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged anti-Semitism as a problem when he attended ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

But just before the Auschwitz commemorations, a group of nationalist Russian lawmakers called for an investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred.

Alla Gerber, head of the Holocaust Foundation, said anti-Semitism also persisted within law enforcement ranks despite high-level condemnation.

"I was shocked at what happened [at the Moscow synagogue], but not surprised," said Gerber. "Anti-Semitism is a traditional problem in Russia, and it is flourishing now in a general climate of xenophobia.

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