Lazar: Combat Anti-Semitism

APLazar speaking with Putin at the presidential residence outside Moscow on Thursday.
Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, called on President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to do more to combat rising anti-Semitism in the country.

In a televised meeting at the presidential residence outside Moscow, Lazar thanked Putin for acknowledging the problem when he attended ceremonies in January commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

But the Jewish religious leader said that the government needed to take concrete steps to confront the growing trend of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Putin promised to make the issue a central priority, although he linked it to wider problems of intolerance including Russophobia -- which Russian officials say exists in former Soviet bloc countries, especially the Baltic states.

"The authorities, the government and president will always keep in their sights the fight against anti-Semitism, and any other forms of extremism, xenophobia, including anti-Russian sentiment," Putin said.

Lazar said after the meeting that he wanted to see action, not words.

"I was satisfied with what the president said, but we want to see the results, at a lower level," he said.

Just before the Auschwitz commemorations, a group of nationalist lawmakers called for an investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred. Authorities have ignored calls by human rights groups to prosecute the legislators.

The state no longer perpetuates anti-Semitism following the Soviet collapse, but many rights groups accuse Russian leaders of being silent in the face of xenophobia, expressed in the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and more frequent skinhead attacks against dark-skinned foreigners.

"It's not that this is what the government wants to see, but not enough is being done by law enforcement bodies," Lazar said, pointing as evidence to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov's dismissal of the nationalist lawmakers' anti-Semitic call as "kitchen talk."

Lazar, from the Lubavitch-dominated Federation of Jewish Communities, is seen as a figure close to the Kremlin. His election as chief rabbi in 2000 created controversy because it displaced a rival linked to media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, who was chased into self-imposed exile by Putin's administration.

A million Jews live in Russia, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities.