A sad story in Russia — still

Imagine a U.S. lawmaker continually making vicious anti-Semitic remarks in public.

Imagine that person's fellow lawmakers failing to condemn the hateful comments.

And imagine the feelings of insecurity such unresponsiveness could create for Jews in this country.

That is precisely the situation Russian Jews are facing following comments by Communist lawmaker Gen. Albert Makashov. Among other things, he called Jews "bloodsuckers."

The Communist-dominated Duma, parliament's lower house, adopted a vaguely worded resolution last week condemning ethnic hatred.

But twice the Russian house has refused to take the crucial step of explicitly condemning Makashov for his anti-Semitic remarks.

That, however, is precisely what is called for, especially since Makashov has repeated his anti-Semitic remarks at public rallies and on television.

He also told an Italian newspaper that Jewish participation in government, business and the mass media should be subject to a special quota corresponding to its population.

Jews, he is saying, should be kept in their place.

In fact, it is Makashov and others like him who should be kept in their place — or better, ousted from power. And it is the responsibility of politicians in Russia and abroad, the media and the public to do so.

While Russia's organized Jewish community has kept fairly quiet on the issue — likely out of fear of a backlash — the president of the country's Jewish Congress has said the Communist Party is preparing for an election campaign by targeting Jews.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for late 1999, while presidential elections will take place in mid-2000.

Sadly, the scapegoating of Russian Jews is a tired, old story. And until the upper echelons of Russian society condemn such racism in the strongest of terms, the story will never change.