Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, responding to a request by Anti-Defamation League leaders, promised to speak out against the rising anti-Semitism in his country.
The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, and ADL leaders met with Primakov in Moscow to ask that he lend his voice against anti-Semitism. And Primakov did just that during the 30-minute meeting, Foxman said.
“He had been criticized as the one authority who had not spoken out since the outbreak of anti-Semitism,” the ADL head said in a phone call from the Russian capital.
He said that not only did Primakov condemn anti-Semitism, but he criticized the Duma, Russia’s parliament, for defeating two resolutions that would have condemned the virulent anti-Semitic comments by a Communist lawmaker, retired Gen. Albert Makashov. The last resolution garnered only 104 votes last Friday, far short of the 225 votes needed to pass.
Not only did the Duma not censure Makashov, it also blasted the media for playing up the dangers of “Russian fascism.” It claimed that political extremism was an “invented problem artificially created to manipulate public opinion, create a distorted idea of Russia in the international community and hamper the efforts of the government to restructure our debts.”
“I say unambiguously that the government takes a very strong position against manifestations of nationalism, including anti-Semitism,” Primakov was quoted as saying. “I believe Makashov had to be condemned fair and square and unambiguously for his pronouncements in an open and undisguised way.”
In speeches last fall, Makashov blamed Russia’s problems on “zhidy” or “yids,” a derogatory term for Jews. He also advocated the establishment of quotas to limit the number of Jews in government. And just last month, he proposed changing the name of his Movement for Support of the Army to the Movement Against Yids.
Primakov, whose father was Jewish, reportedly told the ADL delegation that anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism are the “most horrible things that the human race has to live with. … These elements should not be brought into politics.”
Asked why he had not spoken out before, Foxman said Primakov explained that anti-Semitism in Russia is being exaggerated by the media and that there is no sign of it in the streets. But Foxman said he replied that “there is anti-Semitism in New York and Paris and Moscow, and that it needs a response and a condemnation. And he said we are.”
Foxman noted that the meeting occurred on the eve of Primakov’s departure for the United States to meet American officials about securing more money from the International Monetary Fund to help the ailing Russian economy. (Primakov turned around en route to Washington because of the impending NATO military strike in Kosovo that he had opposed.)
“The fact that he met with us before his departure is significant,” said Foxman. “He could have said that he was leaving in the morning and didn’t have time.”
During their meeting, Foxman said Primakov also voiced the need for a strong Jewish community in Russia. He was quoted as saying that Jews needed to feel as “comfortable as anyone else” and pledged that his government would never put a halt to Jewish emigration.
The era of “refuseniks will never happen again,” he reportedly vowed, speaking through a translator.
Foxman said the ADL would follow up to see whether Primakov met his pledge to support anti-fascist and anti-extremist legislation in the Duma. And he said the ADL and the Russian Jewish Congress “are working out a joint arrangement to monitor anti-Semitism and to utilize some of our [educational] techniques to fight anti-Semitism and intolerance in Russia.”
Before meeting with the ADL delegation, Primakov met for two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed concern about the transfer of Russian nuclear technology to Iran.
The two countries decided to establish a joint mechanism to supervise the transfer of any Russian nuclear technology and expertise to Iran.
A day earlier, Netanyahu spoke at a Moscow synagogue to praise the contributions of Russian Jews who have immigrated to Israel, saying their skills were the “main factor of progress in Israel.”
“I want you to come to Israel, but the choice is in your hands,” he told them.
And Netanyahu also warned about the danger of growing anti-Semitism in Russia, terming it a threat not only to Jews but to the entire Russian nation.
“What starts with hatred of the Jews will never stop at only the Jews,” he reportedly said. “It leads to growing hatred in society, and the society eventually falls apart.”
Among those in attendance was Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, who was in Moscow for the bar mitzvah of the son of Rabbi Avraham Shayevich, the chief rabbi of Russia. He said Rabbi Shayevich also spoke and condemned the silence in the face of anti-Semitic activities and neo-Nazi organizations.
“In Moscow, you have publications that are openly anti-Semitic,” said Rabbi Schneier. “There’s freedom of the press without any restraint.”
He added that because of the worsening economic situation in Russia, “the Jews are becoming the scapegoats. They are blaming Jewish bankers and the large presence of Jews in the government.”
Rabbi Schneier noted that Primakov’s condemnation of anti-Semitism was carried by the Tass news agency and was welcomed by the Jews of Russia.