Russian chief rabbi worried about anti-Semitism

12 parties sign pact against nationalism, xenophobia; 25 refuse to sign.

rabbi berl lazar 298 88 (photo credit: Ksenia Svetlova)
rabbi berl lazar 298 88
(photo credit: Ksenia Svetlova)
Russia's Chief Rabbi, Berl Lazar, told The Jerusalem Post "The displays of Anti-Semitism in Russia are linked to the rise of extremism and xenophobia in the country. The government should do more to crack down on extremists." "There is a very upsetting phenomena of popular nationalistic movements that attract many young people. They use slogans, such as Russia for Russians and Save the motherland. The influence of these groups on Russia's future might be very damaging," Lazar said. Russia has seen an increase in racially motivated crimes in the past several years, including attacks on Jews and dark-skinned foreigners. Twenty-five people have been killed in hate crimes over the past year, and more than 200 have been attacked, said Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. According to Berl Lazar, there are continuous attacks on Jewish cemeteries in the country, averaging 15-20 such incidents per year, although there has not been an increase in this phenomenon in recent years. "Jewish [and non-Jewish] graves are being sabotaged. However, the situation is much worse in Ukraine, where there is an ongoing upsurge in anti-Semitic feelings." In January, eight people were wounded in a stabbing in a downtown Moscow synagogue. Rabbi Lazar noted that, according to his own testimony, the perpetrator of the attack was affected by computer games and anti-Semitic literature. During his trial some three weeks ago, the attacker Alexander Koptsev denied his guilt, claiming that "since the criminal code of Russia is written by Jews and the Jewish mafia, I refuse to confess." "I was glad to discover that the authorities took this incident very seriously, and unlike before, they understand that there is a serious problem here that should be addressed. In the Soviet era, anti-Semitism was institutionalized. Today we know for a fact that this is not the government's policy, but still, we'd like to see more action against the extremists. It is very important that Alexander Koptsev, the attacker, be convicted, not merely for attacking people, but for inflaming hatred, inter-religious discord and anti-Semitism." Just three weeks ago, 12 major Russian parties signed an "antifascist pact," rejecting nationalism, xenophobia and inter-religious hatred. The agreement asserts that even though Russian law bans such activities, they should also be morally condemned. Other 25 registered parties refused to sign the pact, claiming "they would not take part in a public stunt of this kind." Some of the politicians, who refused to sign the agreement, said they would not sign their names together with such politicians as Vladimir Zhirinovski, who is famous for his anti-Semitic expressions. While referring to last visit of Hamas leaders to the Russian capital, Lazar said that the visit itself, in addition to the sudden shift in Russian politics in the Middle East, would not affect the Jewish community in Russia, however he described the visit as "a mistake", adding that there could be no dialogue with terrorists until they denounce violence and change their ways. "When some terrorist group gets international recognition, and the terrorists are given the stage, at the same time they are given the legitimacy for their actions. They might think that their policies are justified and successful. Would we also negotiate with Al-Qaida if it comes to power in some country tomorrow? However, it's also important to remember that President [Vladimir] Putin did not meet the leaders of Hamas. Therefore they must realize that they would still have to fulfill some demands prior to their full recognition by the Kremlin. Historically, Russia always had relations with Arab and Islamic countries, which can also serve Israel, since Russia can contribute a lot as a mediator." Rabbi Lazar said that he was surprised by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's suggestion to enhance the inter-faith dialogue in Russia. He noted that interfaith dialogue in Russia has been proceeding for years. "Just last week I met with Russia's chief Mufti, along with the representatives of Buddhists and Protestants. We are meeting constantly and working on a common platform: not to harm each other and not to inflict violence and hatred. If someone uses religion to justify suicide bombings, it harms the religion." During the years, Berl Lazar earned a reputation of an active, energetic, and spiritual community leader, acting vigorously for the revival of Jewish life not only in large cities, but also in small towns and remote villages all over the Russian Federation, acting to build new yeshivas, Jewish schools and community centers. He enjoys good relations with the Putin administration and is often called by his rivals "Putin's rabbi."