ADL condemns synagogue stabbing

Foxman: Russia must send a message that it doesn't tolerate anti-Semitism.

moscow shul attack 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
moscow shul attack 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on the Russian government to launch an immediate investigation into Wednesday's attack at the Chabad Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow, in which a skinhead stabbed eight worshippers. In a letter to President Vladimir Putin, the ADL urged the Russian government to take immediate steps to ensure the security of the Jewish community, including stepped up patrols at Jewish institutions and places of worship, and "decisive action" against political parties and movements, media outlets and individuals who incite anti-Semitic sentiment. "If today's act does not sound an alarm, society faces grave danger," said Borukh Gorin, chief spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. "Fascism will come knocking at the door of every citizen if we do not take serious measures now." Aharon Yeheskelia of Kiryat Malachi, currently a Chabad rabbinical student in Moscow, was in surgery at press time after having been slashed in the neck and seriously wounded in the attack. The other victims were in stable condition. Yosef Kogan, the 18-year-old son of Chabad Bronnaya Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan, who was himself wounded, wrestled the attacker and managed to pin him to the ground until police arrived. They arrested Moscovite Alexander Koptsev, 20, who faces charges including hate-based attempted murder, according to chief Moscow prosecutor Anatoly Zuyev. "At that moment, I didn't have any thought of fear," Yosef Kogan told The Jerusalem Post by telephone from the Moscow hospital where the victims were being treated. "I only thought about what to do so that others wouldn't be hurt." Avraham Berkowitz, also at the synagogue at the time of the attack, described Kogan as "a courageous young man who jumped on the knife-wielding maniac and knocked the knife out of his hand." Berkowitz, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Commonwealth of Independent States, said Koptsev was screaming "Heil Hitler" and left a "bloodbath" in his wake. Others heard the perpetrator yell, "I will kill Jews." "It was a terrible scene," Berkowitz told the Post. Witnesses said the assailant attacked a guard who tried to stop him, then stabbed people in or near a prayer room on the first floor before continuing his rampage upstairs. They said the attacker had a shaved head and wore a leather jacket. It was not immediately clear whether he was a member of any anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi groups, Zuyev said. Around 100 people were at the synagogue at the time of the attack, but soon after members of the Jewish community flooded the area around it to find out what had happened and show solidarity. Scores stayed at the synagogue into the night praying for the well-being of the victims. "We are shocked that this horrific attack inside a synagogue in the heart of Moscow could happen in today's Russia," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "We urge the Russian government to launch an immediate and thorough investigation, and to ensure that those responsible for the attack are brought to justice. It is important for Russia to send a clear message that it does not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form." Russian news reports said the country's top prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov, was personally taking control of the investigation. "The police are doing what they need to do," said the Jewish Agency's Moscow head of mission Nona Orman, adding that the police had searched Koptsev's background on suspicions that the attack was well-planned by a group of people. She criticized local police, however, for "enabling events like this, because they are not capable of stopping [hate] groups and events like this one are what results." Orman told the Post by phone that the Jewish community is "in shock" because, despite the "negative atmosphere" towards Jews, "there's a difference between seeing something anti-Semitic written and something where people are wounded." But Berkowitz vowed that the attack would not cow the Jewish people of Russia. "We're not going to close our doors, because otherwise you're caving into terror," he said, adding that this incident put Jews at the "forefront of civil society and the protection of the future of Russia as a multi-ethnic society." Berkowitz pointed to the reviving strength of Judaism in Russia, noting that 100,000 Jews had recently participated in public Hanukka celebrations. "For us it's someone trying to spoil the party," he said of the attack. Orman said her office had been inundated by calls and would be organizing aid to the victims. Berkowitz said he had also received an "overwhelming" influx of support from Jews around the world, and said the incident demonstrated the solidarity of the Jewish people. Jewish leaders said that major Jewish philanthropists Lev Leviev and Arkady Gaydamak had both donated funds for private aircraft with Israeli medical teams to assist the wounded and transport anyone in need of medical attention back to Israel. In a separate move, Gaydamak is expected to announce a $50 million donation to the Jewish Agency in support of Jewish education in the Former Soviet Union on Thursday. The attack has "united" the Moscow Jewish community, according to Moscow Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who also serves as the chairman of the Conference of European Rabbis. He said that the Russian authorities needed to do more to stamp out anti-Semitism at all levels. "Anti-Semitic acts don't happen in a vacuum. They are almost always a reaction to anti-Semitic statements and feelings which exist in the society." Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday expressing "shock" at the attack. Yuval Fuchs, the charg d'affaires at the Israeli embassy in Moscow, asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to keep the embassy appraised of the situation, and expressed the hope that the "perpetrators would be brought to justice." The ministry issued a statement saying that the embassy was in "constant contact" with the Jewish community there, and would provide it with all assistance requested. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he directed Fuchs to transmit a "strong and firm" message to the Russian government of the need to take "strong steps against these types of anti-Semitic incidents." The Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement after the attack saying, "We will continue to fight manifestations of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and religious intolerance." Herb Keinon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.