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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Refuses to Rebuke Deputy for Insulting Jews

The State Duma was facing allegations of fueling anti-Semitism after it refused Wednesday to admonish a lawmaker who had made disparaging comments about Jews, letting him off instead with a gentle reprimand from his party.

Radical Duma Deputy General Albert Makashov had earlier been threatened with criminal charges after, at two separate rallies last month, he said that zhidy, a derogatory Russian term for Jews, were responsible for Russia's economic ills and should be thrown in jail.

Makashov himself was unrepentant Wednesday, and after an acrimonious debate, a mildly worded statement prepared by liberal legislators chiding Makashov mustered only 107 votes, well short of the 226 votes it needed to pass.

The Duma's decision immediately came under fire.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said Makashov's comments were "wild, neanderthal and could very well destroy that which has been preserved in the Russian Federation - interethnic and interreligious accord."

Gennady Seleznyov, the moderate Communist speaker of the Duma, parliament's lower house, said deputies had turned the affair into a "farce."

Makashov is an outspoken orthodox Communist who, in 1993, spent five months in Moscow's Lefortovo prison for taking part in an armed attempt to storm the Ostankino television tower during President Boris Yeltsin's violent confrontation with parliament. He was released under an amnesty.

The statement that was rejected Wednesday did not directly criticize Makashov.

It spoke of the threat posed by racist statements to Russia's national accord and noted that Makashov's comments "were harsh and bordering on the rude" and "provoked concern in broad sectors of society."

Seleznyov was the only member of Makashov's 132-member Communist faction to vote in favor of the statement. One lawmaker each from the Agrarian and Popular Rule factions - both allied with the Communists - voted in favor. Only one member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic faction took part in the vote at all.

Makashov refused to apologize. Speaking in his usual colorful style, he said Zionism was a threat to Russia and compared some deputies to "sparrows digging in horse manure."

Several deputies voiced their support for his anti-Semitic statements. In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Communist Deputy Gennady Benov said, "Zionism is more frightening than fascism because it operates from the flanks, clandestinely and secretly."

Zhirinovsky gave his tacit support for Makashov, saying that such remarks were an understandable reaction to the hardship being experienced by the Russian people.

Sensing a media embarrassment, several deputies tried to have the statement removed from the Duma's agenda. However, liberal deputies insisted that it be put to a vote.

Sergei Ivanyenko, a legislator with the liberal Yabloko faction, said: "We regard the vote on this document as a vote on whether to resurrect state-sanctioned anti-Semitism in this country or not."

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov attempted to limit the damage caused by the affair, saying Makashov had been issued with a reprimand by the party.

Attempts by the authorities to prosecute Makashov over his remarks have stalled. As a deputy, he enjoys immunity from prosecution and can only be stripped of this by his fellow lawmakers.