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Is Russia the safest country in Europe for Jews?

Norwegian study confirms far lower incidents of anti-semitic violence in Russia than France, UK, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Denmark

epa05111594 Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar (R) meet with representatives of the European Jewish Congress in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 19 January 2016. Others are not identified. EPA/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV /SPUTNIK/KREMLIN MANDATORY CREDIT: SPUTNIK

The present controversy stirred up by the Russia Insider article on the subject of the relationship of the Jewish people and Russia (about which see my discussion here) by reviving old stories about the attitudes towards Jews of the tsarist authorities and during the Russian Civil War, has diverted attention from the actual reality, which is that Jewish people in Russia are safe and welcome, are now significantly safer in Russia than in the supposedly mature democracies of Western Europe, and that there is no climate of hostility in Russia towards Jews at all.

Confirmation of this comes not from ‘Russian state propaganda’.  It comes from a recent (June 2017) and detailed academic study of instances of anti-semitism in Russia, which also looks into similar such instances in France, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

This study was carried out by the University of Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism and its Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages.

Its conclusions are that there was virtually no anti-semitic violence in Russia during the period covered by the study (2005 to 2015) and that Jewish people in Russia are now physically safer than in any of the mature democracies of Western Europe covered by the study, and that attitudes towards Jewish people in Russia are strongly positive.

Russia

Russia clearly stands out with a very low number of registered incidents of antisemitic violence in proportion to its large Jewish population (approximately 190,000). Only 33 incidents were found for the period 2005–2015. We must assume that a number of incidents have occurred without being reported in the media and thus not registered in the SOVA Center’s database, but according to Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Center, the level of antisemitism-related violence in Russia is clearly far lower than in Western European countries.

It is also notable that no reports could be found of Russian Jews feeling forced to conceal their identity in public.

Even though the data for incidents in Russia are not strictly comparable, it appears safe to say that exposure to antisemitic violence among Jews in Russia is clearly far lower than in Western European countries.

The study found that the majority of acts of anti-semitic violence against Jewish people in the mature democracies of Western Europe are carried out by Muslim immigrants.

However as the study points out, Russia has by far the biggest Muslim population in Europe, which argues against an automatic link between Islamic beliefs and anti semitism.

The FRA survey data and other reports suggest that individuals (usually young men) with backgrounds from Muslim countries stand out among perpetrators of antisemitic violence in Western European countries. Note, however, that we do not necessarily see more antisemitic violence in countries with many Muslims and many Jews.

Russia has Europe’s largest Muslim population and the continent’s third-largest Jewish population, yet, as noted, incidents of antisemitic violence occur far less frequently there than in Western Europe. Moreover, the violence that does occur in Russia is committed not by Muslims, but by right-wing extremists. The task of explaining this variation should be taken up in future studies.

In passing, the also study hints that the German authorities are deliberately downplaying the extent to which anti-semitic violence in Germany is being caused by immigrants from Muslim countries by indiscriminately reporting incidents of anti-semitic violence in Germany as the product of right wing extremism.

When we compare German respondents’ perceptions of perpetrators with German police data on perpetrator motives, a striking discrepancy emerges.

In sharp contrast to the FRA survey, German police statistics suggest that far-right actors commit most of the violence (see Figure 13).

How can this be explained?

Perhaps the share of right-wing perpetrators is in fact larger than indicated by the results of the FRA survey.

We could also be looking at a categorisation problem. Could it be that German police considers antisemitism a right-wing type of ideology and thus categorises most antisemitic attacks as right-wing, regardless of the perpetrator’s ethnic or religious background?

Another issue is the nature of violent incidents categorised by German authorities as anti-Israeli and not antisemitic.

In 2014, German police registered violent anti-Israeli incidents (most of them perpetrated by “foreigners”), and one of them, controversially, involved the fire-bombing of a synagogue.

The question is how many of the other “anti-Israeli” incidents should really be considered acts of antisemitism. More research is required to clarify this issue.

The British Jewish writer Melanie Phillips has suggested that the reason for the far fewer instances of anti-semitic violence in Russia, and for the far lower prevalence of anti-semitic attitudes there, is the policy of zero tolerance the Russian authorities have towards such violence and such attitudes.

There may be some truth to this.  However in a sense that simply proves the point: there in no conflict between Jews and Russians in Russia, the Russian authorities far from being anti-semitic are totally opposed to anti-semitism and indeed to racism generally, and apart from a tiny minority of extremists they are supported in this attitude by the whole of Russian society.

As Dmitry Babich rightly says in his recent article for RussiaFeed, it is simply wrong and misleading to say otherwise:

Nothing To Do With Russia

Attempts to connect Mr. Bausman’s article to our country or to its president are not just missing the point – they are outright deceitful. Mr. Bausman’s article was published on his own private media resource, for which he is trying to get donations from the public. Mr. Bausman’s anti-Semitic article has nothing to do with Putin or with the “atmosphere in Putin’s Russia” (which is not anti-Semitic and not xenophobic in general).

Moreover, it has nothing to do with the Russian intellectual tradition. Please note that no reference to Russian thinkers was made in Mr. Bausman’s article, except for a few illustrations from the legacy of the late Russian painter Ilya Glazunov, who dismissed accusations of anti-Semitism during his lifetime, but who died last year and so can defend neither his reputation nor for his copyright.

As it happens President Putin – who is a practising Orthodox Christian – is known to be strongly philo-semitic, and his relationship with the leaders of Russia’s Jewish community is excellent.

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