Russian Jews rally for Iran 13

MOSCOW — A recent rally here to help Iranian Jews may have been small — fewer than 200 people took part — but it didn't lack for symbolism.

"I consider it a historic event." said Pinchas Goldschmidt, Moscow's chief rabbi, who helped organize and spoke at last week's rally. For the first time in many years, he said, Russian Jewry has launched efforts to help another diaspora community,

The protesters stood quietly in a downtown Moscow boulevard outside the Iranian Embassy, carrying signs reading "Let My People Go," "Justice for the 13 Iranian Prisoners" and "Free the Political Prisoners in Iran." They were referring to the 13 Jews who recently were arrested, along with eight Muslims, in Iran. The 13 have been accused of spying for Israel and America.

The Iranian arrests prompted an international outcry.

The protest attracted a crowd of onlookers drawn by rumors of a possible clash between the demonstrators and Iranian students living in Moscow, but no students showed up.

The Iranian Embassy apparently had decided to downplay the event. It had lodged a protest against the demonstration and tried unsuccessfully to have Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Goussinsky cancel it.

Most of the demonstrators were not longtime Jewish activists but young people, some of them teenagers.

"I came here because I am not indifferent to the fate of my kinsmen in Iran. Our schoolchildren painted the posters and brought them here on their own initiative," said Grigory Lipman, director of Moscow's secular Jewish high school.

Many in the Russian Jewish community believe their country could use its ties to Iran to play an instrumental role in the fate of the "Iran 13," said Rabbi David Karpov, a Lubavitch leader in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a delegation of visiting American Jews in February that his ministry has been raising the issue with Iranian authorities since June.

"We have been including this question on the agenda of practically all Russian-Iranian political contacts," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a letter to Moscow's Jewish community last month.

The RJC, one of Russian Jewry's umbrella organizations, had been pressuring the Iranian Embassy in Moscow to issue visas to Goussinsky, two leading Russian Jewish lawyers and some media people to attend the trial, which was to take place this week.

Just before the demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy, Goussinsky met with the Iranian ambassador regarding his visa requests, but he did not receive an answer.