In former Soviet Union, anti-Semitism once again rises

MOSCOW — Some Jews in the former Soviet Union are feeling increasingly worried that they might become targets in the war with Islamic fundamentalists — and there's a growing body of evidence to support their fear.

A leaflet distributed recently in Chechnya stoked Jewish concern with the comment: "The Chechen people are continuing their great jihad by clearing the fatherland from Russian occupiers, servants of the world's Jews."

Additional alarms were sounded after two men were detained last month in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan for distributing leaflets of the banned Hezb-et-Tahrir organization.

The leaflets called on Muslims to "fight against Israel for Palestine" and to commit violent actions against Jews.

In yet another incident, members of a militant Islamic sect based in Turkey were arrested recently in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg for distributing booklets propagating Islamic Revolution and calling for violence against Jews.

Islamic anti-Semitism, virtually nonexistent in the former Soviet Union only a few years ago, is on the rise, triggered by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an anti-American animus.

A recent wave of anti-Israel demonstrations in Kiev, Moscow and elsewhere was led by organized groups of Arab students — prompting some observers to the conclusion that the wave of anti-Semitism is an imported phenomenon.

"We never heard" of anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, says Natan Mishne, an Israeli businessman born in Baku, capital of the former Soviet republic.

"Local people have always been friendly to Jews," he said, adding that he thinks the anti-Semitism is primarily the result of "Iranian influence."

Mishne, who does business in Azerbaijan and has contacts among local officials, says the Azeri government has managed to contain the Islamic threat.

But other sources say that radical Islamic groups are expanding in predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan.

Saudi-funded Islamic groups with links to Osama bin Laden began to expand in the former Soviet Union right after the collapse of the USSR.

These groups, which rely heavily on anti-Semitism and xenophobia, have been accused of a series of terrorist attacks in the former Soviet Union, including bombing apartment buildings in Moscow and the May 9 bombing at a World War II Victory Day parade in the largely Muslim region of Dagestan that killed 42 people.

"I understand now what the Israelis are feeling at such moments," says Irina, a middle-aged woman who sells newspapers near a Moscow subway station.

Following the May 9 bombing, some Jewish leaders have begun calling for action.

"There should be no mercy for the organizers of these murders," Rabbi Berel Lazar, one of Russia's chief rabbis, told reporters after the attack.

Muhammet Minatchov, head of the Watan Peoples Democratic Party, the oldest Islamic political group in the former Soviet Union, says anti-Semitism is not part of the Islamic tradition in Russia.

"We want a dialogue with Jewish organizations, including dialogue on the Middle East conflict," he said.

But some other respectable Muslim groups reportedly have begun to separate "good, local, non-Zionist" Jews from "bad" Zionists and Israelis.

In late April, two influential nationalist organizations in the predominantly Muslim region of Tatarstan issued a statement demanding that an Israeli delegation visiting as part of a yearly Jewish festival leave immediately.

The statement termed the presence of the Israeli delegation an insult to Palestinian victims and to the national and religious sentiments of the Tatar people.

Farid Khabibullin, chairman of the People's Front of Tatarstan, told reporters the statement was not directed against the Jewish people, but solely against the state of Israel — and that he has nothing against Jewish festivals in Tartarstan as long as they do not include any Israelis.

Ironically, a month earlier, Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, who visited Tartarstan a month before, praised the region as a model of interethnic and interfaith coexistence.

On April 27, the Eurasian Party of Russia, an influential Muslim political group, gathered several hundred delegates to a congress in Moscow.

The gathering was presided over by Russian legislator Abdul Niyazov, who has publicly asserted that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by "Zionist" secret services.

At the congress, Niyazov reportedly emphasized the Jewish origins of many liberal politicians in Russia.

Gadzhi Makhachev, who represents Dagestan in the Parliament, called for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be hanged.

The congress — attended by some leading Russian nationalists — responded with loud applause.