MINELRES: "The Forward": Changing Face of Antisemitism in Modern-Day Russia

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Sat Jan 4 11:41:22 2003

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The Changing Face of Antisemitism in Modern-Day Russia

Disrespect for Human Rights Allows Neo-Nazis To Flourish
Whether it is Hitler's "Mein Kampf" or Stalin's Doctor's Plot, the
Palestinian Authority's or Arab states' antisemitic and anti-American
newspapers, Russian nationalistic xenophobes or the Web sites of
neo-Nazi skinheads, we have learned that neither racist states nor
terrorists pursue their murderous goals by stealth. Relying on
intimidation as well as arms, they announce their intentions in advance.

We have long ignored their warnings to our mortal peril. We must begin
to think of human rights monitoring, especially that which is focused on
xenophobia and antisemitism, as an instrument of national security, the
civilian equivalent to weapons inspections.

Although the world's attention is presently riveted on Osama bin Laden,
Iraq and the intifada, all the elements of danger to Jews, democracy and
the United States are also present in Russia, where antisemitism,
Islamophobia and neo-Nazi skinhead violence are all but out of control.
Russia's failed criminal justice system has not only failed to protect
Jews and ethnic Muslims from the Caucasus, it also is in danger of
failing to prevent hostile nations and terrorist organizations from
buying or stealing from the largest and most poorly secured warehouses
of weapons of mass destruction in the world. As the recent North Korean
revelations also dramatize, our national security focus must not be
fixated exclusively on the Middle East.

>From Kaliningrad in Russia's far west to the Pacific port city of
Vladivostok, from the Arctic city of Murmansk to the southern resort
area of Krasnodar, regional authorities as a general rule ignore the
activities of dangerous hate groups that aim violent rhetoric and
actions against minority groups. The authorities refuse to prosecute
hate crimes or, at best, classify them under the euphemistic term
"hooliganism." These hate groups range from largely unorganized skinhead
gangs to more structured neo-Nazi groups like the People's National
Party, from the successors of Russian National Unity to officially
approved paramilitary Cossack formations. Antisemitism is also rife
among many, often self-appointed, Muslim clerics and elements of the
Russian Orthodox Patriarchate. These conclusions are documented in the
Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union's just-released
report, "Antisemitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia's
Regions 2001."

Antisemitism and xenophobia must be seen as critical threats to national
security beyond the hate and intimidation aimed at specific targets.
That they are allowed to flourish with impunity is a critical indicator
of the grave weakness of human rights, rule of law and civil society in
general, especially the criminal justice system and the moral mood of
the country.

The failure to adequately confront these evils carries with it two kinds
of dangerous consequences for Russia. First, it emboldens terrorists and
nourishes the social fabric that tolerates them. This is both a domestic
and international security threat because it raises the chances for
terrorists and extremists to gain access to nuclear materials and
devices. Second, the breakdown of human rights and civil society is both
an undue burden on Russia's budget and economy and a profound
disincentive to foreign trade and investment. A coalition of human
rights and business leaders committed to reform offers promise to
reverse Russia's position as one of the most investor-unfriendly places
in the world.

The history of the human rights movements, which developed in Russia
along with the Jewish national emigration movement of Refuseniks, began
during the 1970s and was heavily influenced and promoted by the Helsinki
process. The emphasis was placed on defending the individual against
abuses of rights by the governments, and in this emphasis, although the
issues of antisemitism and xenophobia were recognized evils, they were
not seen as high priorities for human rights campaigners. This goes far
to explain why the major human rights organizations in the West have
been curiously tone deaf to the evils of xenophobia, including
antisemitism, as illustrated most graphically by their complicity in the
branding of Israel as a racist perpetrator of crimes against humanity at
last year's United Nations conference against racism in Durban, South

All of this argues for a new, post-September 11 paradigm for viewing the
nexus between human rights and national security, one that brings two
issues up to par with the traditional values for human rights.

First, that antisemitism and xenophobia are indeed central human rights
abuses in their own right and as bellwethers and predictors of
escalating danger. Second, that governments and human rights activists
alike need to focus beyond their traditional concern for governmental
abuse of the individual to embrace concern for the dangers to society at
large from non-state criminals and terrorists, most of whom are either
dedicated antisemites or at least employ antisemitic, neo-Nazi rhetoric
that often goes hand in hand with anti-Americanism. Governments must be
held accountable for combating racist extremists who depend on the
support or acquiescence of their host governments to thrive.

I recognize the difficulty of directing the attention of the public or
of policymakers to this subject at a time when questions of
international terrorism, of weapons inspection, indeed of war and peace
and America's obligations to protect and defend democracy, are the
riveting issues of the day. But isn't one of the lessons of September 11
that we must vigilantly tune into the signals of terrorism that are
emanating from around the world?

Today, antisemitic and neo-Nazi terrorism, which is inextricable from
anti-Americanism and anti-globalism, has replaced communism as the
international threat to democracy. Beyond acts of terrorism, the
coordinated propaganda, including Holocaust denial, now flows from
official media in the Middle East, the Russian parliament, leftist
intellectuals and media in Western Europe, and American universities.

It is long past the time for human rights and former-Soviet Jewry
grassroots activists to rise up and join the battle for conscience and
democracy. We must return to the days when antisemitism and racism were
unalloyed evils, and not a question of legitimated moral equivalency or
political posturing.

Micah Naftalin is national director of the Union of Councils for Jews in
the Former Soviet Union and publisher of its Web site www.fsumonitor.com

Nickolai Butkevich
Research and Advocacy Director
UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union 1819 H. St.,
NW Suite 230 Washington, DC 20006
(202) 775-9770 x107
Fax: (202) 775-9776
www.fsumonitor.com-- Daily Updates on Antisemitism, Extremism and Jewish
Life in the FSU

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