Staunton, December 29 – Most of the rising tide of xenophobia in Moscow and other Russian cities has been directed at migrants from the North Caucasus, but at least some of it is now focused on Russian Jews, a trend that is prompting an increasing number of this group, often the object of Russian xenophobic attacks in the past, to leave for Israel.
Immediately after the Manezh clash, Aleksandr Kogan of the Israeli portal, izrus.co.il, reported that “many Russian bloggers and authors of extremely popular outlets” wrote stories of an openly anti-Semitic nature, in some cases blaming the Jews for the clashes and in others calling for turning popular anger on them (izrus.co.il/diasporaIL/article/2010-12-22/12870.html).
And less than a week after Russian extremists attacked North Caucasians near the wall of the Kremlin, David Shechter, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency Sokhnut in Moscow, said that “as a result of the disorders and manifestations in Moscow we have noted a sharp increase in interst among the Jewish population” in repatriation to Israel.
Since that time, the situation has moved from the blogosphere to the streets. This week, Schechter told izrus.co.il that “on the wall o fthe metro entrance on Manezh Square have appeared graffiti featuring large black letters [calling for] ‘the Kikes to Get Out of Russia’ and featuring a swastika” (izrus.co.il/diasporail/article/2010-12-27/12925.html).
Such anti-Semitic signs have led additional Russians Jews to consider moving to Israel, Schechter said, “more people than had been expected” during “the January holidays which last about two weeks. “ He noted that “Russian Jews do not always so quickly react to outbursts of anti-Semitism,” a possible indication that they are especially worried now.
Other Jewish activists and commentators have begun to try to put what is going on in context. Yury Kanner, the president of the Russian Jewish Congress, noted that there has been a growth of xenophobic and anti-Semitic articles in the blosophere. But he suggested that the Moscow officials were taking measures (izrus.co.il/diasporaIL/article/2010-12-22/12875.html).
He pointed out that at the time of the disorders, the Russian militia had noticeably increased security around synagogues and other Jewish sites in Moscow, an indication that they were ready to block any threat but also one that shows at least some among the Russian powers that be were concerned that such a threat was entirely possible.
Meanwhile, Yevgeny Levin, a Jerusalem-based commentator, told Portal-Credo.ru, a religious rights site, that while he was far from those who assert that “a serious danger threatens Russian Jews” at the present time, the experience of Jews in Russia in the past means that they fear even the possibility of pogroms (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=comment&id=1820).
He noted that “for the majority of the participants in the December disorders, the Jews, unlike the Caucasians or migrants from Central Asia are a purely theoretical enemy,” there were some anti-Semitic slogans among those in the Manezh Square clashes, an indication of the way that xenophobic attitudes about one group often involve similar feelings toward others.
And Levin continued that “if the powers that be will not take rapid and energic measures for the restoration of peace, many Russian Jews will begin to think seriously about emigration.” Among other things, that should mean that supporters of Jews abroad should consider revising their views about the “potential for repatriation” among Jews in Russia.
To date, the amount of anti-Semitism in Russian cities has been relatively small compared to the level of xenophobia among Russians concerning “people from the Caucasus” and “people from Central Asia.” But these reports are important as a reminder that any reduction in the fight against hatred of other groups can quickly spread.
Moreover, they are a reminder of the continuing relevance of Pastor Niemuller’s classical observation made during the horrors of the Nazi regime in Germany that the failure to speak up in defense of others almost invariably opens the way for attacks on one’s own group and even on oneself.