Magazine article Insight on the News

Russian Jews Are Trapped amid Hatred

Magazine article Insight on the News

Russian Jews Are Trapped amid Hatred

Article excerpt

The myth of a world Jewish conspiracy has a long and bloody history. It obtained its classical form in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery created by the Russian secret police and originally printed in 1903 in an anti-Semitic daily in St. Petersburg. Before the 1917 revolution, it was reprinted many times in Russian - and later in most European languages. It became an instrument of Nazi propaganda. In the United States before World War II, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy was promoted by Henry Ford, among others.

Now Protocols has returned to its homeland. In the past several years it has been printed by many Russian newspapers, magazines and book publishers with connections to numerous so-called patriotic organizations. The Russian translations of Ford's The International Jew, Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and dozens of other "classical" anti-Semitic books are widely distributed, often given away in the streets. Many organizations and right-wing political parties believe that the best way to increase their influence is to accuse their democratic rivals of being Jews or secret Jewish agents.

Most democrats, for their part, prefer to distance themselves from Jews to avoid those accusations. Put this together with violent attacks on Jews in the streets or in their homes and with threatening letters and telephone calls, and the atmosphere of hatred makes life for Jews in the former Soviet Union increasingly frightening.

During the past several decades, Soviet Jews enjoyed moral and political support from the West, especially from Jewish communities. Freedom for a member of a persecuted minority to emigrate was considered in the West a basic human right. Even such totalitarian rulers as Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov did not dare stop this emigration completely.

In 1988, yielding to pressure from the West, Mikhail Gorbachev lifted most of the obstacles to emigration. This positive turn in Soviet policy, however, was not accompanied by a decline in anti-Semitic activities. The result was a massive exodus of Soviet Jews. Freedom to emigrate turned into panicked flight.

Most Jewish emigrants able to leave preferred to go to the United States - not to Israel. The Israeli government, which insisted that all Jewish emigrants should go there, was afraid to lose this wave of emigration and increased its pressure on U.S. Jewish leaders. In October 1989, the United States for the first time placed a ceiling on immigration from the Soviet Union and the rest of Eastern Europe, setting the limit at 50,000 a year.

Furthermore, the American immigration policy was altered so that Soviet Jews and members of other religious groups no longer automatically qualified for asylum. Persecution had to be proved on an individual basis. Thousands of Jews who applied for refugee visas were denied entrance. Thus a barrier was created, one that turned almost a half-million Russian Jews, most of whom wanted to come to the United States, toward Israel, where they now make up more than 10 percent of the population.

But this massive invasion has not made the Israeli government happy. It is a difficult task for any nation, especially a small one, to absorb so many newcomers. If one keeps in mind that Israel is a mostly socialist country with a huge bureaucracy and an inflexible economy, and that Russians who come to Israel - mostly professionals with higher education - remain unemployed for years with little chance of securing jobs in their fields, it is not hard to understand why they write to their friends and relatives in Russia to think twice about coming to Israel. …

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