Russians voice low hostility toward Jews in new poll

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MOSCOW — While recent opinion polls show heavy support for pro-nationalist forces in the June presidential elections, a majority of Russians exhibit relatively little hostility toward Jews.

These findings emerged from a new American Jewish Committee-sponsored survey titled "Current Russian Attitudes Toward Jews and the Holocaust."

Describing the overall picture of current Russian attitudes toward Jews, David Singer, director of AJCommittee's department of research and publications, said the "situation is even more positive than we expected."

The survey, released Tuesday of last week at a Moscow news conference, revealed that a majority of Russians see the situation in their country in pessimistic terms, but that they do not blame Jews for their country's problems.

When asked about the level of influence Jews have over Russian society, 14 percent of the respondents answered "too much influence," 21 percent said "too little influence" and 29 percent said "the right amount."

When asked whether they would like to have Jews as neighbors, 17 percent said they would prefer not to, 67 percent said it would not make any difference and 13 percent said yes.

Other survey results also suggested that hostility toward Jews seems relatively low.

Five percent of those polled said they would vote for a political candidate who was openly anti-Semitic, but 76 percent said they would not.

The survey also suggested that a majority of those supporting ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or the Communist Party felt no overt hostility toward Jews.

Singer said the survey indicated that the likelihood of the expression of anti-Jewish attitudes by Zhirinovsky and Communist supporters was not significantly higher than among supporters of reformist candidates.

Zhirinovsky's followers support him despite his anti-Semitism rather than because of it, Singer said.

The end of state-sponsored anti-Semitism that came with the fall of the Soviet Union had much to do with the relatively low level of hostility toward Jews in present-day Russia, Singer added.

The survey also found that 67 percent of the respondents had a favorable view of Israel, while 15 percent expressed an unfavorable view.

About 10 percent of those polled agreed with the statement: "Now, as in the past, Jews must answer for killing Christ"; 59 percent disagreed and 31 percent would not give a definite answer.

Those conducting the survey pointed out that the relatively large percentages of respondents answering "don't know" to a number of questions dealing with attitudes toward Jews is a cause for concern because it points to a potential anti-Semitic swing should the country's conditions worsen.

For example, 37 percent responded "don't know" when asked whether Jews have too much influence in Russian society.

The second part of the poll revealed that unlike in Europe or the United States, many Russians lack even the most elementary factual knowledge about the Holocaust.

Half of the respondents were able to identify Auschwitz, Dachau or Treblinka as concentration camps, compared with 92 percent in Germany, 91 percent in Poland, 85 percent in Australia and 67 percent in the United States.

The survey was carried out for AJCommittee by ROMIR, a Moscow-based public opinion and market research company, in January and February.

The study had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

It was the ninth in a series of AJCommittee surveys dealing with attitudes toward Jews and minorities. Previous studies were conducted in the United States, Europe and Australia.