Sunday, January 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Growing Xenophobia in Russia Sparks Rise in Anti-Semitism, RJC and SOVA Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – The radical increase in xenophobia among Russians over the last year has triggered an increase in anti-Semitism there, although the latter does not play the central or independent role in Russian nationalist rhetoric it did in the past, according to a report by the Russian Jewish Congress and the SOVA Information-Analytic Center.

            But that does not make this trend any less disturbing because it comes after four years of declines in the number of attacks directed against Jewish institutions and because the spread of anti-Semitic materials via the media, including the Internet, could lead almost at any time to outbursts of this ancient evil (

            The report released last week listed ten physical attacks on Jewish institutions and Jews during 2013, a number up from eight the year before and one likely to rise as reports come in. A major problem in this research, the authors say, is that Russian media often do not report on such events or combine them with other forms of xenophobia, making accurate counts problematic.

            The report also focused on anti-Semitic publications. Their number has gone up as well, prompting the Russian authorities to issue “a minimum of 16” charges concerning anti-Semitic content. Seven of these cases were exclusively about materials directed only at Jews while the other nine were directed at Jews and other groups as well.

            While the number of hate crimes involving physical actions  actually fell between 2012 and 2013, from 95 to 69, the anti-Semitic component of this statistic rose from eight to ten, an indication, the report suggests that in contrast to most of the last decade, “anti-Semitic attacks are returning [as a specific component] of the ‘repertoire’ of national-radical groups.”

            A positive development in 2013, the report continued, was that “happily” anti-Semitic statements by officials were “quite rare,” although they did occur. But that plus was overwhelmed by the minus of the flood of anti-Semitic materials on the Internet, whose number is too large to count.

            The report said that “anti-Semitic books are easy to find in popular book stores, but typically they are lost among other kinds of materials.  In a prominent place, book dealers put only the most popular conspiratorial books, among which of course are anti-Semitic ones like ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

According to the report, anti-Semitic ideas were also spread by broadsides and handouts, and it pointed to the case of one posted to the wall of the Abakan Jewish Community Center signed by groups calling themselves “the Fascist Union of Siberia” and “the Khakhass National Socialist Party” and calling for Jews to leave the area.

“The majority” of such anti-Semitic actions remain unpunished, in part because they do not appear to represent a serious threat to society, the report said, “but one should not fail to note a certain inconsistency” in the way officials treat such actions, an inconsistency which can give those who are carrying them out the sense that they are beyond punishment.

Obviously, the report said, “the role of anti-Semitism in contemporary Russia has become less notable than in those periods when it was the basic content of nationalist propaganda and even more when government anti-Semitism existed. But we see that anti-Semitism is not disappearing from the ideology of all nationalist and fundamentalist trends in Russia.”

   But “having ceased to be their ‘visiting card,’ anti-Semtism has been transformed for all those who in one way are subjected to the influence of these trends into part of their basic ideas about history and society.”  And that spread means that there are ever more anti-Semitic “motifs in popular pseudo-historical books [and] films.”

            Anti-Semitism in Russia today, the report concluded, “continues to play a role as one of the fundamental elements of any worldview connected with ethnic or religious xenophobia.” As that set of attitudes increases for other reasons such as immigration or events in the North Caucasus, anti-Semitism has and will continue to increase.

            “This dynamic,” the authors of the report warned, must be the occasion for “serious concerns.”

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