Zyuganovs track record tramples Jewish concerns

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The election of Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov in the July runoff election may reverse the gains Russian Jews have made during the reforms of perestroika and since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Would a Communist victory mean a return to the human rights and anti-Semitic abuses of the Soviet era? Would the the Russian Jewish communities and their friends abroad react? Would the number of refuseniks increase from the low hundreds today back to the tens of thousands during the Soviet era?

Some answers may lie in the history of Zyuganov himself. He opposed Gorbachev and the reforms that opened the doors for Jewish emigration.

From 1991 onward, the Communist candidate was one of the architects of the so-called "Red-Brown Alliance" between communists and ultranationalists that promoted right-wing anti-Semitism and symbolized a new agenda in Russian politics: nationalism-Communism. This is in part a throwback to a nostalgia for Soviet power and also rides the wave of nationalist fervor.

Zyuganov was a leading figure in the development of Russia's National Salvation Front, which attacked Jews and other minorities using classic anti-Semitic texts such as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

While it's clear that a Zyuganov government would not be good for Jews, what specific changes are in store?

The erosion of Jewish security would not occur overnight. It would probably begin as part of a nationalistic campaign against foreign influences that would include official attacks on Zionism.

An early sign of this might be the closing down of activities promoting aliyah (emigration to Israel). Israel's official presence in the country would likely be limited to its embassy in Moscow and a few consulates under close surveillance of the reinvigorated FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopastnoti, the former domestic branch of the KGB), to minimize Israeli contact with the Jewish populace.

In addition to closing down the work of the Jewish Agency and expelling shlichim (emissaries), it's reasonable to believe that representatives of Western Jewish groups such as the American Joint Distribution Committee would also soon be told to leave.

Citing "brain drain," the Communist government might gradually squeeze off emigration of Jewish intelligentsia. While a cab driver might be able to leave, a Jewish scientist or even secondary-school teacher would be refused.

Jews and other minorities would be even less confident of official protection than they are now. A subtle, or not so subtle, bias against non-Russians in the government-controlled media would contribute to an increase in anti-Semitic violence, with law enforcement having little motivation to pursue the perpetrators.

There would probably not be a wholesale shutdown of Jewish institutions. More likely, we would see a pattern of gradually increasing harassment via such methods as denials of registration and false accusations of financial impropriety. We could expect that the Bay Area Council's Harold Light Emigration and Aliyah Center in St. Petersberg would be singled out for such treatment.

Arms of Russia's nascent independent Jewish press such as the BACJRR-sponsored Ami would be weakened by the reintroduction of censorship and, in a newly centralized economy, might find it difficult to obtain such basic supplies as newsprint.

Undoubtedly, the Soviet practice of setting up government-controlled Jewish front groups would be revived, making extensive efforts to undermine advocacy both internally and in the West. These well-funded organizations and publications would take an anti-emigration, anti-Zionist stance and claim to represent the "silent majority" of Russia's Jews.

How might the Bay Area Council and its national organization, the Union of Councils, respond to this crisis?

With Russian communal organizations disrupted, our longstanding contracts with Jewish and human rights activists would still be maintained, much as they were with refuseniks. Activists would provide the Jewish and general communities, elected officials and other leaders with updated and reliable information about the situation in Russia, and vigorously advocate that U.S. policy toward toward the Communist-Nationalist government make protection of Jews a a top priority.

New Russian Americans in the Bay Area and throughout the United States would need assistance in supporting their families still in Russia who are affected by the return to totalitarianism. The BACJRR and other agencies would need to advocate, petition and demonstrate on behalf of those who needed assistance fleeing Russia, entering the United States or were falsely accused of crimes in Russia.

Hopefully, this scenario will never come to pass. If it does, a united, organized Jewish community — committed to the security, welfare and dignity of 2 million Russian Jews — will be the best insurance policy.