The chief rabbi of Moscow, in the United States during the shooting attack at a Jewish community center near Los Angeles last week, was distressed by the anti-Semitic incident, but encouraged by the forceful reaction of American political leaders.
Russian leaders are silent about recent outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Moscow, he says.
"There is no political will. There is not enough political pressure" to curtail Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis thought responsible for a recent spate of attacks on Jews and Jewish sites in the Russian capital, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says.
"Russian citizens have not gotten the message from their leaders that [the anti-Semitic attacks] are wrong, morally wrong," says Rabbi Goldschmidt, who spoke at a briefing at Anti-Defamation League headquarters in Manhattan sponsored by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Rabbi Goldschmidt compared the public statements against anti-Semitism by prominent government leaders in this country (including the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton) with the actions of Russian politicians at the local and national levels.
In addition, he says, the latest reshuffling of the Russian government, including President Boris Yeltsin’s removal of Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, makes a national campaign against anti-Semitism more difficult to implement. Stepashin, who had established a close working relationship with leaders of Russia’s Jewish community, vowed to "eradicate" anti-Semitism during a recent trip to Washington.
"Every time you have to deal with new people, it is difficult," Rabbi Goldschmidt says.
Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy who was named by Yeltsin as Stepashin’s replacement, dealt with the issue of anti-Semitism as head of a presidential commission to combat extremism, but he has made no public statements on anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Goldschmidt says he and other community leaders, in meetings this year with several politicians, urged a "crack down" (especially strengthened police investigations) on the groups behind the current rise in anti-Jewish attacks, and stepped-up patrols of Jewish sites. All the politicians, whom the rabbi did not name, promised to take action, but "very little has been done," he says.
Two bombs exploded near Moscow’s two largest synagogues in May, a similar explosive device was found and defused near Moscow’s Shalom Jewish Theater two weeks later, and the business manager of the city’s Jewish Arts Center was stabbed in July by a 20-year-old man identified as a neo-Nazi.
"There are no suspects" in any of the attacks, no one has been arrested so far, Rabbi Goldschmidt says. "The government is not responding adequately.
"Most Jewish institutions … have not been secured at all," the rabbi says. "Most of the security up until now was provided internally."
Because of government inaction, Rabbi Goldschmidt says, several Jewish institutions in Moscow have hired private security firms, at great cost, to patrol their buildings; the Russian Jewish Congress has established a joint institute with the ADL and other American groups to monitor anti-Semitism in Russia; and the new organization, the Security Foundation of the Russian Jewish Community has begun to post its findings on an English-language web site, www.chat.ru/~jsfund"
People are worried," he says of the Jewish community in Russia. "Aliyah is up" tremendously in the last six months.