Bush is pressed to address anti-Semitism in Putin meeting

washington | Amid growing concern about anti-Semitism in Russia, Jewish activists in Washington are hoping President Bush will press his Russian counterpart to do more.

Bush is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia Feb. 24. The summit will focus in part on concerns about democratic efforts in Russia, and Jewish leaders say the rise of anti-Semitism is an important trend to discuss.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal body created to monitor religious freedom in other countries, was expected to meet with Bush on Friday, Feb. 18. During that meeting, commission members are expected to broach their concerns about threats to Jews in Russia, hoping Bush will raise the topic with Putin.

Felice Gaer, vice chairman of the commission and director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights at the American Jewish Committee, said she hopes the president would push Putin to increase police efforts to protect Jews, to prosecute anyone thought to be guilty of physical attacks against Jews or other hate crimes in Russia, and to be aware of the rising number of skinheads.

“He gets it,” Gaer said of Bush. “It’s a longstanding concern of our commission and the situation itself is more inflamed than it was in the past.”

The lobbying efforts come after a few highly publicized incidents raised the fear that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Russia.

Last month, a letter signed by 20 Russian lawmakers called on Russia’s prosecutor general to ban all Jewish organizations because they are extremist and anti-Russian. Next, on Feb. 3, more than half the viewers who called the television station during a prime-time debate on one of the country’s most popular talk shows supported a lawmaker who made anti-Semitic comments throughout the program.

JTA foreign editor Peter Ephross in New York contributed to this report.