Confronting the Resurgence of Anti-Semitism


`DOWN with Judaic Fascism!" "Yeltsin is a friend of the Jews!"

Such slogans, hand-lettered on signboards and painted on banners, are common fare these days at Moscow demonstrations by communist and Russian nationalist opponents of the Russian government.

The placards are one of a multitude of public expressions of anti-Semitism which have become so common in Russia as to barely draw comment. Yuri Semenovsky, a member of the board of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, gestures to a pile of newspapers which regularly carry attacks on Jews.

"Anti-Semitism here has become the language of the right-wing nationalist movement," says Mr. Semenovsky. Researchers monitoring this movement say almost 100 publications - from the tiny sheets of extremist groups to mass circulation journals such as the monthly Molodaya Gvardia - carry articles assailing Jews.

Anti-Jewish jokes are a constant in a political humor column of the weekly Dyen (Day), flagship of the so-called Russian patriotic movement. In an interview in Dyen's March 15 issue, Dmitri Vasiliyev, leader of the neo-fascist Pamyat organization, articulated the view that "communism and Nazism ... stem from Judaism, the only religion in the world which utilizes such notions as the 'chosen people' and 'racial preeminence.' "

Nor are such sentiments confined to the printed word. Early March 20, the door of the Kiev apartment of Ukrainian-Jewish poet Abram Katsnelson was splashed with gasoline and set on fire, reports Kiev Radio Liberty reporter Davi Arkadyev. On the wall a sign was painted: "Kikes! Israel waits for you." Other incidents, he says, include a bomb planted at the Kiev synagogue last December.

The reemergence of anti-Semitism some 50 years after the Holocaust is one consequence of the collapse of communism. Resulting social and economic chaos has encouraged old traditions of blaming Jews for troubled times.

And the shattering of communist beliefs has left an ideological vacuum into which extremist views are rushing. Anti-Semitism has resurfaced even in countries such as Poland, where a tiny Jewish community of about 4,000 remains of what was once the largest Jewish population in Europe (3.3 million in 1939).

But anti-Semitism appears to reach its greatest public expression in the former Soviet Union, where the Jewish community is the third largest in the world after the United States and Israel. Mr. Semenovsky says it now numbers 1.5 million, plus several million more of partial Jewish ancestry or who have hidden their identity. Some two-thirds of Soviet Jews live in Russia and 20 percent in Ukraine, he estimates.

After Mikhail Gorbachev lifted controls on Jewish emigration, a huge outflow headed to Israel, the US, and elsewhere. The rate has slowed because of economic difficulties in Israel, but activists here say the desire to leave is undiminished.

While the coming to power of the Russian democratic movement has visibly diminished fears, activists say there is still a danger that as economic conditions worsen, Jews may be singled out.

"Anti-Semitism is very deep in the hearts of Russians," argues Semenovsky. In the 18th century, a Russian decree restricted where many Jews could live, and in the 19th and early 20th century, waves of pogroms occurred under the Czarist state. While Soviet propaganda proclaimed the friendship of all nationalities, the state unofficially barred Jews from leadership positions in all areas but the arts and certain sciences.

The collapse of the Soviet state ended controls from above. "But popular anti-Semitism from below has come to the surface instead," Semenovsky contends.

The current Russian government is credited with some changes in the state attitude toward Jews, even sponsoring a celebration of Hanukkah on the steps of Parliament. The Ukrainian government has been even more active, declaring Yom Kippur an official holiday and holding a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, Ukraine.

At the same time, no Russian leader has spoken out against the virulent anti-Semitic press and organizations, charges historian and Jewish journalist Volodya Dolin.

The Russian democratic movement is silent in part, Mr. Dolin says, because they, too, embrace the Russian nationalist cause.

"Anti-Semitism is a traditional part of this ideology, and there is no new historical concept of the Russian nation-state," he argues.

The tone was affirmed in a seminal 1989 article on "Russophobia" by renowned mathematician Igor Shafarevich, which painted the picture of a plot by Jews and other non-Russians to belittle the Russian people. A February 1992 article in Molodaya Gvardia accuses "Jews and the Judeophile intelligensia" of sponsoring a "wave of Russophobia," adding the warning that this "anti-Russian campaign" is triggering a "negative attitude on the part of the indigenous peoples of Russia."

Participants in a round-table discussion of Russian history in the March issue of Nash Sovremenik (Our Contemporary), the journal of the Union of Russian Writers, repeat common accusations - that the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was conceived and led by Jews and that Jews are responsible for the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church during communist rule.

"Russia is sick, sick with chauvinism and anti-Semitism," wrote historian Yuri Buida in a long article on anti-Semitism in the leading liberal paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on March 24.

"But I would like to hope that the last anti-Semite in Russia disappears sooner than the last Jew does."

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