Survey: Anti-Semitism still strong in St. Petersburg

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They've been called "Christ Killer" and "Yid." They've seen their neighborhoods marred by anti-Semitic graffiti and their family gravestones desecrated. In addition to discrimination, some have suffered physical abuse.

Fifty-four percent of Jews responding to a survey in St. Petersburg, Russia, experienced anti-Semitic name-calling, while 40 percent witnessed other forms of anti-Semitism last year. But because authorities often fail to respond to such incidents, few victims reported them.

"The police are also anti-Semites, after all," one respondent said.

A total of 612 St. Petersburg Jews completed the survey, conducted late last year by San Francisco's Bay Area Council of Jewish Rescue and Renewal in conjunction with the Harold Light Jewish Center for Human Rights.

The results were recently compiled and analyzed by the BACJRR, St. Petersburg Jewish University and Brandeis University's Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy.

This survey is believed to be the first focusing on the anti-Semitic experiences of Jews still living in the former Soviet Union. However, others have been conducted on non-Jewish perceptions of Jews in the former Soviet Union and on the experiences of Jews who have left the area.

According to Simon Klarfeld, executive director of the BACJRR, the survey results underscore a certain resignation toward anti-Semitism among Russia's Jews.

Of those who admitted to having experienced anti-Semitism, only 32, or 10 percent, reported the incident to authorities.

"These results reveal that anti-Semitism in Russia is so pervasive that Jews living there do not think of these harsh incidents as anything other than the norm," Klarfeld said. "That is what's so depressing."

Part of the reason for that attitude, Klarfeld said, is that Russian Jews' vision of anti-Semitism may be so rooted in the last 70 years of government-sanctioned anti-Semitism that the newer brand of anti-Jewish sentiment may seem less threatening. Compared to being denied admission to a university because they are Jewish, an anti-Semitic symbol on a wall might seem trivial.

Even so, some of those surveyed were profoundly affected by the hostility they experienced. "I've gone underground, hidden myself; I try to appear less often in public places, try not to stand out in a crowd," responded one.

Another called for a massive, community response to anti-Semitism: "We should unite, keep together, and be ready for the worst."

One motivator for the survey, in fact, was helping Jews in the St. Petersburg area and throughout Russia develop effective means for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism.

Following the survey's results, the BACJRR has made several policy recommendations. Among them are creating a formal mechanism to promote the Russian Jewish community's interaction with Russian authorities. The BACJRR also suggests that activists work to encourage the U.S. government, in its immigration policies, to respond to Russian Jews' fear of persecution.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.