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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Strange Stategy for Jewish Defense

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Alexander Koptsev, a Muscovite with a fondness for racist web sites and violent computer games, is accused of grabbing a knife on Jan. 11 and heading to the Chabad Synagogue, where he purportedly stabbed eight men before being wrestled to the floor. The leaders of Kremlin-friendly Jewish organizations, from Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, to Vyacheslav Kantor, head of the Russian Jewish Congress (yes, the same Kantor who threw the first stone in the legal assault against Mikhail Khodorkovsky), unanimously called on the state to protect the Jewish population from anti-Semitic extremists.

If you want to get a sense of the public conscience, you focus not on the actions of a lone psycho, but on how society responds.

Ethnic conflicts are symptomatic of the end of an empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union began with Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku and the Meskhetian Turks. In this sense, Russia today is sitting on an ethnic powder keg.

When the women from the largely Avar village of Moksob in Dagestan went down to the river Aksai last summer for a swim, they found that the Chechen women from the neighboring village of Novoselskoye were washing their clothes upstream. Words were exchanged, and before long the conflict escalated into a brawl involving hundreds of men from both villages.

A Chechen man raped a girl in the village of Remontnoye, Rostov region. In retaliation some 200 Cossacks laid siege to the village.

When a Kalmyk man was shot dead last August during a bar fight with several Chechens in the village of Yandyki, Astrakhan region, hundreds of local Kalmyks went on a rampage, burning homes and beating local Chechens.

The spark that lights the blaze in these situations is always the same. A disagreement about laundry escalates into a deadly brawl. Villages like these are a hair's breadth from the kind of carnage we saw in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the Koptsev case, the spark that ignites such ethnic unrest was missing. Imagine that instead of Koptsev we were dealing with a knife-wielding Ossetian in an Ingush mosque, or an knife-wielding Ingush in a Vladikavkaz church. At a minimum such an attack would have brought thousands of people into the streets, and might even have led to renewed fighting between the two peoples. One thing's for sure: The police would never get their hands on the assailant. He'd be cut to ribbons by the mob.

The attack on the Chabad Synagogue didn't lead to pogroms or the organization of Jewish self-defense brigades. Instead, this violent outburst of fascism was followed by a call for the state to police the Internet.

The real ethnic conflicts that are tearing this country apart almost never make the evening news. The big two state-controlled television stations scarcely reported on the ethnic cleansing in the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya, or the storming of the regional government headquarters in Karachayevo-Cherkessia by ethnic Abazin activists, or the trial in Vladikavkaz in which Ossetian jurors acquitted several Ossetian men who had kidnapped their Ingush business partner. The accused got off by declaring that the kidnapping was an act of revenge for Beslan.

I'm not saying there's no anti-Semitism in Russia. There is, especially at the top. But it comes nowhere close to the level of ethnic tension that prevails in the south. You can blow anti-Semitism out of proportion, of course, frightening people and convincing them that only a third Putin term will prevent the nationalists from coming to power.

In this sense the diehard anti-Semites left over from the old Soviet KGB are killing two birds with one stone: keeping the current regime in power, and giving the Jews a good scare in the process.

What I'd like to know is why Jewish organizations keep playing into the hands of people far more dangerous than any Koptsev. Kantor's strategy for defending his people's interests looks a lot like Ramzan Kadyrov's.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.