Russia's nationalists call for ban on Jewish groups

01-25-2005, 19h00

Russia's nationalist lawmakers have asked the prosecutor general to ban all Jewish organizations because of their "extremist" views, in a vitriolic call ahead of this week's 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

The letter was dated January 13 but only rose to public attention this week. It shocked human rights defenders and even some of the original signatories reportedly changed their minds and were recalling their names.

A foreign ministry statement issued on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's attendance at the Auschwitz memorial commemoration in Poland said "the statement has nothing to do with the official position of the Russian leadership."

The seven-page call signed by 20 members of the 450-seat State Duma lower house of parliament that included the Communist Party and nationalist groups used some of the most profane language against Jews publicly published in the post-Soviet era.

"The whole democratic world today is under the financial and political control of the Jews," said the statement.

The group was led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party.

"We would not want our Russia, which is subject to a permanent, extra-legal war seeking to prevent its rebirth, to find itself among unfree countries," the statement said.

It called on the Russian courts to ban "all Jewish religious and community groups" which the statement also described as "anti-Christian" and accused Jews of staging attacks against their own community as a provocation so they could pin blame on others.

"We would like to underline that many anti-Jewish acts around the world are staged by the Jews themselves as a provocation in order to take punitive measures against patriots," the letter said.

The Russian state officially does not subscribe to any religion but Orthodox Christians dominate the country's religious life and often enter into politics with the patriarch's frequent meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and some visiting heads of state.

"We cannot follow the false idea of tolerance which is imposed on us, such as that of the acceptance of sin, of evil, of heresy, and in the present case, of nothing less than satanism," said the document.

It was also published by a periodical called Orthodox Russia in a version that had some 500 signatures that included editors of nationalist publications.

The appeal was published on paper carrying the parliament's letterhead and called on Russia's prosecutor general to "officially open a legal investigation into banning all Jewish religious and community groups" on grounds of "defense of the homeland."

The Israeli embassy here issued a statement asking the Russian government to "immediately" take measures to fight growing anti-Semitism in the country. "This is a classic example of anti-Semitism," the statement said.

The letter and the following Israeli appeal have not been covered by the state-controlled media.

But rights groups were quick to vent their outrage. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights appealed to both Putin and Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov asking the two to denounce the anti-Jewish drive.

"Will Russia be able to put a stop to the brewing neo-nationalism," the human rights body's letter demands.

Meanwhile Andrei Cherkizov -- one of Moscow's most noted Jewish commentators who appears on Moscow Echo radio -- accused the Russian government itself of secretly harboring ant-Semitic views.

"I can tell you this with absolute certainty," Cherkizov told the radio station. "However you try to cover up anti-Semitism, its naked feet will still be sticking out."

Meanwhile Russia's Inter-religions Council called the appeal a "gross violation."

It added said the letter "has added serious arguments for future US State Department condemnations of our country's polemics."

Washington recently expressed concern about the fate of Jews living in Russia. A series of booby trapped anti-Semitic signs injured several people last summer.