Russia's growing anti-Semitism

Attending synagogue services in some European locales is becoming dangerous. (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The stabbings of 8 congregants in Moscow's Chabad Bronnaya synagogue last week is not unique and by no means an isolated crime by one demented individual. Though images of the bloodstained floor were particularly gruesome, the incident constitutes but another detail in the overall increasingly bleak picture of growing anti-Semitism throughout Europe in general and Russia in particular. This Shabbat, indeed, featured another such attack in Russia, in which an intoxicated young man shouting anti-Semitic slogans was detained as he tried to enter a synagogue Friday in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and was jailed for five days for hooliganism. Attending synagogue services in some European locales as well as walking about in traditional orthodox Jewish attire is becoming dangerous. Attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions have been reported from England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and elsewhere. Special protection is of the essence for Jewish houses of worship and schools. In France, Jewish parents report fearing to send their children to Jewish schools - yet their youngsters are attacked in public schools. In Western Europe the onslaught on Jews is many-pronged, perpetrated both by Muslim migrants and neo-fascist skinheads - extremist elements that are otherwise inimical to each other, yet bound only by their animus towards Jews. Russian anti-Semitism in contrast is largely native but also involves rival extremes from the leftist and rightist fringes of the political spectrum. According to findings of the US Anti-Defamation League, Russian anti-Semitic attacks are growing more violent, although the post-Communist government publicly denounces anti-Semitism and pledges support for legal action against perpetrators. Nevertheless, there is clear reluctance to treat the widespread phenomenon as anything but individual "hooliganism." This is acerbated by the fact that Russia is one of the few countries where politicians, public figures and media luminaries feel free to disseminate anti-Semitism of the most noxious variety. In the name of freedom of expression the current Russian government does nothing to restrict such overt anti-Semitism, nor even to limit the publication and circulation or anti-Semitic texts and access to them. Anti-Semitic papers such as Russkaya Pravda, Vitaz and Peresvet are sold unhindered on Moscow streets and subway stations. Their propaganda finds fertile ground in disaffected xenophobic youths who then readily project their hostilities on maligned Jews. Russian skinheads generally operate in relatively small gangs, not usually part of a large organized structure. These groupings, however, are loosely connected through hate journals and fascist Web sites. Last March, rabbis Berl Lazar and Pinchas Goldschmidt demanded an end to downplaying of the problem and to official Russian failure to invoke existing anti-incitement statutes. They noted that law enforcement agencies tend to treat anti-Semitic offences as common thuggery, dismiss anti-Semitic pronouncements and/or violence and sometimes even knowingly shield anti-Semites with whom they sympathize. Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned anti-Semitism, sometimes passionately. Crucially absent, though, is convincing action to combat the outrage. Perhaps the place to start is by doing precisely what the rabbis in Moscow asked last year and asked again after last week's attack - enforcing laws against the propagation of hate, already plentiful in today's Russian legal codes. All that's needed is the will and political courage to identify inflammatory promotions of anti-Semitism for what they are and stem them before they poison more minds. Russia, which demands a greater say in international affairs, cannot acquiesce to such moral pollution on its streets and inside the halls of its parliament. Action is something that leaders of the Jewish state should not shrink to demand of their Russian counterparts. What Israel has the right to demand of its Arab neighbors it is also entitled to expect of a power which claims the mantle of a go-between in a conflict involving Jewish self-preservation in this region. That power cannot be callous to the security and well-being of Jews on its home turf.