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Cable Reports Lower Russian Anti-Semitism

“From ‘Oy, Vey’ to OK,” says U.S. ambassador, via WikiLeaks

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Russian Prime Minister Putin meets with two Russian Rabbis (Lazar on left) earlier this year.(Lexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a classified cable from U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, which was sent in late 2009 but released yesterday by WikiLeaks, Russia has shown “clear signs of throwing off its long and tragic history of anti-Semitism.” The government’s policy “has involved an aggressive campaign against anti-Semitism, coupled with positive official statements towards the Jewish community,” Beyrle reports. “Societal attitudes have also improved.” Warmer ties with Israel have helped as well, he says. The cable’s title is “Anti-Semitism on the Wane in Russia,” and it agrees with the Russian government’s contention that the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked trade status to Soviet Jews’ freedom of emigration, is “an anachronism.”

The cable’s release may represent pithy timing on WikiLeaks’s part, given that this week also brought a report from a judge’s assistant that the criminal charges and eight-year prison sentence against Russian Jewish oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky were politically (though not, explicitly, ethnically) motivated.

Speaking of pithy! Commentators have noted that WikiLeaks has taught us that some of our top diplomats possess literary touches you would not expect; and Beyrle, a George W. Bush appointee who has served in Moscow for nearly three years, is no exception. “From ‘Oy, Vey’ to OK” is how he headlines one section, where he traces the history of Russian anti-Semitism. Another section is titled, “Some of [Russia]’s best friends are Jews.” And he provides a compelling portrait of Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar, who comes off as something of an operator, paying obeisance to the Kremlin and receiving funds from prominent but more docile Jewish oligarchs like Lev Leviev, Roman Abramovich, and Boris Berezovsky. Ambassador Beyrle: When you retire, we hope you’ll consider contributing to Tablet Magazine!

More to the point, Beyrle is judicious on the fact that Russia’s progress is fragile—“the [economic] crisis could easily exacerbate latent anti-Semitism,” he notes (this was in December 2009)—and that claims such as Lazar’s assertion that there is more anti-Semitism in Europe than in Russia must be “taken with a grain of salt.” “Anti-Semitism has been a part of Russian culture for such a long time,” he argues, “that it would be unrealistic to expect it to disappear overnight.” But he is persuasive that life for Russia’s Jewish community—which, a little oddly, he seems to peg at one million, when it’s more like 200,000—is better than it has been in a very long time. His credibility is aided, of course, by our knowledge that he didn’t expect us to be reading this.

I asked Gal Beckerman, author of the award-winning history of Soviet Jewry, When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone, about the Jackson-Vanik comment at the conclusion. “Amazingly, it’s still on the books and annoys the hell out of the Russians,” he told me of the law, whose repeal is supported by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “It means they can’t get Most Favored Nation trading status, which they need in order to be admitted to the World Trade Organization, something they very much want. Getting rid of J-V is also on the Obama administration’s list of to-dos in their attempt to ‘reset’ the American-Russian relationship.” He added, “Whatever other problems Russia has with democracy and human rights, free emigration is not one of them. Since this was the initial intent of the bill, it should have been repealed a long time ago.”

Anti-Semitism on the Wane in Russia [WikiLeaks]
Related: Russian Tycoon’s Trial Was Rigged, Assistant Says [NYT]

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That is not true!
These days anti-Semitism is at the highest level since the beginning of the new Russia about 20 years ago. Here are just two example in support of this statement. In contemporary Russia there is a relatively decent newspaper with an old soviet name “Komsomolskaya Pravda.” One recent article in this newspaper describing favorably Israel and Jewish people has generated about 400 anti-Semitic responses – no one in support! Another example: a few months ago Muscovites witnessed a ten-thousand-people “Russian March” with slogans “Kill the Jews”, and the government didn’t stop it.
The reason is clear: the economic and spiritual foundation of the country has been deteriorated, and the government and the people are looking for the enemies to blame. And those enemies are well known, and they are the USA and the Jews.
But what about the photo which is picturing the Russian boss Mr. Putin and his friends orthodox Rabbis? That is true they are friends – because they are a sort of “court” Jews helping him to claim high international standing.

Jonathan Silverman says:

Minkov,

Putin really is friends with these Jewish ppl. Way before he rose through the ranks of KGB. Putin was a poor hungry kid growing up, and he was treated warmly by a jewish family living next door. he remembers this kindness to this day.

Ruth Gutmann says:

Even Himmler had Jewish friends. It means little to nothing. Mr. Putin and his friends could prove us skeptics wrong. All it would take is some meaningful action, such as setting Mihail Khodorkovsky free.

Jerry Goodman says:

Yes, there is popular anti-Semitism in Russia, as well as in the Arab world, the Muslim world, and among industrial nations, including our own. What has happened is an end to the state or official anti-Semitism of the Former Soviet Union, a process begun by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, and strengthened as policy by Putin and Medvedev. No small feat in a nation with a long history of animosity towards Jews.

Jerry Goodman
Founding Executive Director, National Conference on Soviet Jewry; Founder, The Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement, at the American Jewish Historical Society

very nice post, i actually love this web site, keep on it

Yefim Feldman says:

When Putin told the oligarch’s that they have to start paying tax, Khardokovsky
was the first to say that “we don’t have to” and theres nothing anyone can do about it , because they already bought the duma.
That is why Mr. Khodorkovsky is in jail.

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Cable Reports Lower Russian Anti-Semitism

“From ‘Oy, Vey’ to OK,” says U.S. ambassador, via WikiLeaks

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