Russia 'slow' to act on anti-Semitism

Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman: "Are there arrests, prosecutions and convictions?"

Abe Foxman 224.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Abe Foxman 224.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A leading US-based Jewish organization criticized Russian authorities Friday for a "slow" response to xenophobia and anti-Semitism amid mounting hate crimes and a spate of ultranationalist demonstrations. Thousands of extreme nationalists and white supremacists marched Sunday in Moscow and other cities for the third straight year on National Unity Day, a public holiday the Kremlin inaugurated in 2005 to replace traditional celebrations of the 1917 Bolshevik rise to power. "The manifestation on Unity Day certainly was a wake-up call," Abraham Foxman, national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League said during a visit to Moscow. "We are concerned. "The implementation of law and order has been somewhat slow," Foxman told The Associated Press. "Are there arrests, prosecutions and convictions?" At least 10 Jews have been assaulted in Russia this year, compared to the "usual" five to seven cases in recent years, said Alexander Verkhovsky, of the human rights group Sova, which monitors hate crimes. The attacks represent a fraction of hate crimes the group has registered this year. About 50 people, mostly immigrants and migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountain region, have been killed and more than 400 assaulted, he said. Anti-Semitism is also manifested through occasional vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, derogatory graffiti and accusatory publications. "There is a lot of anti-Semitic writing in Russia," Verkhovsky said. According to varying estimates, between 300,000 and 1.5 million Jews live in the nation of 142 million. After an exodus in the years before and after 1991 Soviet collapse, the Jewish community is experiencing a moderate revival, with new synagogues, schools and cultural centers built throughout the country. In Czarist times, Russia had the world's largest Jewish population - the source of some of the most distinctive theological and cultural traditions of modern Jewry, and also the target of anti-Semitic attacks. In the Communist era, thousands of Jews were imprisoned or executed as part of nationwide purges, and many more had to hide their identity. "They were forced away from their Jewish roots and faced forced assimilation," said Foxman, 67, who survived the Holocaust in Poland. Russia's government has broken with a long history of official anti-Semitism. "Anti-Semitism has no support in the government and therefore is doomed to fail in Russia," said Mikhail Savin, spokesman for the Russian Jewish Congress. But Foxman's concern about the response to anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia came amid persistent criticism from activists who say the government is not doing enough to decrease prejudice and stem hate crimes. During the Sunday ultranationalist march in central Moscow, leaders of far-right groups have accused the Kremlin of siding with "Jewish oligarchs" and shouted anti-Semitic epithets.