Cablegate: Rabbis Shayevich and Goldschmidt Cautiously

Published: Mon 22 Sep 2008 03:03 PM
DE RUEHMO #2837/01 2661514
R 221514Z SEP 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002837
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2018
Classified By: Ambassador John Beyrle for reason 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary: The Ambassador met separately with xxxxx during the week of September 15.
xxxxx probed for potential U.S. sanctions against
investors in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and flagged concern
over Iran's nuclear program. Both xxxxx agreed that
manifestations of anti-Semitism in Russia had fallen in
recent years, but xxxxx attributed Putin's relatively
pro-Jewish stance to his need to not appear anti-Semitic
during his campaign against the oligarchs. Regarding the
Jewish community, xxxxx praised the positive effects of
Russia's explosion of wealth, while xxxxx linked economic
expansion to a negative shift in the occupational and
educational interests of the Russian Jewry. Both xxxxx
added that immigration from Israel to Russia vastly exceeded
Russian emigration to Israel, but xxxxx noted the
reduced Israeli financial support because of the falling
dollar. End Summary.
Anti-Semitism: Muted Compared to Soviet Era
2. (C) xxxxx told the
Ambassador on September 16 that anti-Semitism in Russia has
declined in recent years, and that Russian Jews faced fewer
problems today than in Soviet times. xxxxx noted that
the chance for a reversal of fortune for Russian Jews
existed, characterizing Russia as a country of extremes. He
drew an analogy to Gorbachev's prohibition of alcohol and the
Russian penchant to drink excessively as a manifestation of
these extremes. xxxxx more cautiously agreed that
anti-Semitism was not widespread -- especially in Russia's
political sphere -- as it had been in past years. However, he
attributed this change, in part, to Putin's conscious desire
to appear unbiased in his campaign against Russia's
predominately Jewish oligarchs. xxxxx added that
economic prosperity brought tolerance and reduced the need
for scapegoats, noting that Russia's newfound wealth softened
a principal grievance of Russian society. He also applauded
the Russian government's efforts to punish those that
committed racially-motivated crimes, saying that the 16-year
imprisonment of Aleksandr Koptsov for stabbing 11 people in a
Moscow synagogue in 2006 left an indelible impression on
society. xxxxx also explained the role of numerous
Jewish organizations in Russia and Eastern Europe, referred
specifically to the increasing prominence of the Russian
Jewish community in Germany, and he said that Russian Jews
wQl eventually assume leadership of the Jewish community
Political Jockeying, Georgia, Iran
3. (C) xxxxx admitted that he did not have the same
level of contact with the Kremlin as xxxxx, Chief
Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar (Note: Along with Chief Rabbi of
Russia Berel Lazar, xxxxx Calling himself an old man, he claimed to have
little interest in attending official functions, and he
appreciated the fact that he was no longer "bothered" by the
ruling elite. He singled out the Kremlin's disapproval of
Russian oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, xxxxx as the chief reason for his past and current
political "suffering."
4. (C) xxxxx in his meeting, probed for information
about potential U.S. crackdowns against any oligarchs for
investing in South Ossetia or Abkhazia, curious about the
future funding for the Jewish community. He specifically
mentioned diamond magnate Lev Leviev's rumored financial
problems stemming from some bad investments, and added that
the current financial crisis damaged the Russian elite.
xxxxx expressed concern over Iran, noting to his recent
travel to Brussels for the European Jewish Congress (EJC)
annual meeting, chaired by EJC President and Russian
billionaire Vyacheslav Moshe Kantor. Kantor called for
strong, legal, multilateral measures against Iran for their
development of a nuclear weapons program in a May 2008 press
conference, then subsequently traveled to Tehran for
meetings, according to xxxxx He spoke about Kantor's
work on Holocaust issues, specifically drawing on Kantor's
work with the government of Poland on the 65th anniversary of
the liberation of Auschwitz, as well as his cooperation with
the government of Ukraine in 2006 on remembering the 65th
anniversary of the executions at Babi Yar. xxxxx
estimated that Kantor had dedicated approximately 30-40
million dollars to his work in Eastern Europe, but did not
specifically say if Kantor drew on his own funds for this
Jewish Community Relations
5. (C) While xxxxx gave a mixed assessment on the future
of Russia's Jewish community, xxxxx saw Russia's
economic growth as positive for the Jewish middle class.
While naming the Georgian and Azeri Jewish communities in
Moscow as strong and calling the entire Jewish community more
stable, xxxxx criticized the motivations of Russia's
Jewish youth, saying they no longer strove for prestigious
careers in science, teaching, or theology as in Soviet times.
xxxxx placed importance on current youth projects,
pointing to the need for a more robust Jewish upbringing in
contemporary society considering that many young Jews pursued
business careers. xxxxx on the other hand, saw
Russia's newfound wealth as a positive factor for the Jewish
community since it has enabled the formerly lower class
citizens to reach a middle class status. Community members
have earned the ability to buy cars and real estate, travel
once a year, and even provide donations for community
projects. He also relayed the fact that the Moscow Jewish
community had taken control of its financial situation, no
longer relying on help from abroad.
7. (C) While the number of Jews in Russia remained low, the
community retained strong support. xxxxx could not give
an exact number for Russia's Jewish population, estimating
the community's number at 500,000 with only 1,500 Jews left
in his birthplace of Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous District
(Note: 2008 International Religious Freedom Report estimated
Russia's Jewish population at 250,000). xxxxx blamed the
decline of the Jewish Autonomous District on a lack of
leadership. He tallied 112 Jewish communities in Russia and
added that new synagogues had been built in Petrogorsk,
Tomsk, Tula, and in the northern Caucasus. xxxxx told
the Ambassador that the Congress of the Jewish Religious
Organizations and Associations of Russia (KEROOR) had over
100 communities in Russia, predominantly based in St.
Petersburg, Moscow, and the Golden Ring outside of Moscow.
Those communities outside of these three regions typically
depended on financial support from Moscow.
8. (C) xxxxx for a
Jewish museum failed to bear fruit. While Lazar's Museum of
Tolerance (reftel) received high-level support from Putin and
Luzhkov, his past efforts to create a non-denominational
Jewish museum never took off. xxxxx saw the Museum of
Tolerance as a Chabad project, one that will present Lazar's
perception of Jewish history and culture and confirmed that
Leviev financed Lazar's project, along with Roman Abramovich.
9. (C) xxxxx indicated that Jewish immigration from
Israel to Russia greatly exceeded that of emigration from
Russia to Israel. xxxxx appeared impressed by the level
of reverse immigration from Israel to Russia, saying that
only approximately 1,000 Russians emigrated to Israel over
the past year. xxxxx
impressions, saying that approximately 2,000 Jews in the
entire former Soviet Union moved to Israel in the past year.
Both regarded the figures as the product of Russia's growing
stability and wealth. Adding greater depth on
Russian-Israeli relations, xxxxx blamed the falling
dollar for the reduction of Israeli support to the Russian
Jewish educational system. xxxxx lauded the
recently signed visa-free travel agreement between Russia and
Israel since it would mean less work for him, no longer
needing to help his community members receive visas.
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