Anti-semitism

   The roots of anti-Semitism in Russia are deep. In 1791, Catherine the Great instituted the Pale of Settlement, which restricted Jewish residents in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from settling in other parts of Russia. The territorial confinement served to prevent the burgeoning Jewish middle class from dominating Russia’s economic life.
   During the 19th century, successive tsars placed new restrictions on Jews, expelled many from Russian cities, and encouraged populist acts of religious violence, including pogroms. It was also during this period that the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion was fabricated and distributed, ostensibly by a member of the Russian secret police, as “proof” of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Many Jews chose to emigrate to the United States or Palestine, while others gravitated to revolutionary movements such as the Bund and Bolshevik Party. Among Russia’s peasantry, popular resentment of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and anti-Semitism were often intertwined, especially during the early period of Soviet rule and the Russian Civil War when the Whites described the Bolsheviks as a “gang of marauding Jews.”
   Later, under Joseph Stalin, many Jewish Bolsheviks were purged and a vigorous anti-Zionism campaign created new problems for the country’s Jewish population. The continued conceptualization of Jews as an ethnic minority and not a religious population ensured that Jews, despite their high level of assimilation to Russian culture, would continue to be viewed as non-Russians. The Soviet Union’s difficult relations with Israel further complicated the situation of Russian Jews, particularly during the Arab-Israeli wars of the second half of the 20th century.
   In the late Soviet period, many Jews, colloquially known as refuseniks, attempted to emigrate to Israel but were barred by bureaucratic hurdles that were internationally condemned. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a virulent form of popular anti-Semitism found fertile ground in a society wracked by the hardships of transition to a market economy. Political parties such as the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation made attacks on the mostly Jewish oligarchs a basic component of their populist message. Neofascist and neoNazi youth groups also fed the fire of resentment against Jews. In the past decade, attacks against synagogues and hate crimes against Jews have been on the rise (doubling in 2005), despite new legislation targeting ethnically or religiously motivated crimes.
   See also Zhirinovsky, Vladimir.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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