Blood libel makes comeback in Russia

By Lilly Galili


Shvat 15, 5765

A fundamentalist Russian newspaper ran a letter Sunday asking the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ustinov, to open an investigation against all Jewish organizations throughout the country on suspicion of spreading incitement and provoking ethnic strife.

The letter, published in the Rus-pravoslavnaya newspaper, which defines itself as "patriotic," calls for an end to government subsidies for these groups. The lengthy document was signed by 500 people, including newspaper editors, academics and intellectuals. These signatories were joined by 19 nationalist members of the lower parliament, the State Duma, from the nationalist Rodina (homeland) party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and the Russian Communist Part.

Even though the story was picked up by radio stations and leading Internet sites in Russian, there has been no official condemnation.

The libelous document is divided into chapters with such titles as "The Morality of Jewish Fascism," "Provocateurs and People Haters," and "Jewish Aggression as an Expression of Devilry."

"I'm not a psychiatrist, and I can't help them if they're crazy," said Russia's co-chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, in response. "The worst possibility is that they're sane and are making a cynical move for electoral purposes."

The blood libel, described here as a ritual murder of Christian children that has already been proved in the courts, is only one thrust of the letter, which runs into thousands of words and weaves a convoluted web between classic religious anti-Semitism and current anti-Israeli sentiment.

The writers see a direct line between the Shulhan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and other halakhic sources they quote profusely, and the transfer program espoused by Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.

The letter also indirectly criticizes President Putin and the state courts for their policy of trying anyone charged with anti-Semitism and incitement, without verifying the claims' veracity. Those charged spoke the truth, the letter maintains, and those accused of anti-Semitism were nothing but patriots.

The writers make use of quotations from traditional Jewish sources and current Israeli and Jewish publications. In the chapter on the Jewish oligarchs' devastating control of Russia's economy and politics, the letter quotes Jewish writers from Israel and the United States, along with excerpts from interviews with the oligarchs themselves.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky expressed shock Monday at the fierceness of the anti-Semitic letter, saying that although the signatories represent a slim segment of Russian society, latent anti-Semitism is clearly a major danger there.

Sharansky quoted Putin saying that anti-Semitism is not only a danger to his country's Jewish population, but a threat to the stability of his regime.

According to Sharansky, even though popular anti-Semitism is entrenched in Russian culture, Putin viewed the Jews as a bridge in new relations with the West, and granted freedom to Jewish communities there.

"However, Putin, for reasons of his own, precisely now needs to bolster Russia's national pride," Sharansky said. "The problem is that the moment you start playing with nationalist slogans, they immediately link up with the most primitive prejudice."

Sharansky called on Putin and the Russian parliament to treat the letter and its authors harshly.