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Home > News & Politics > International > Katzav's Kremlin reception

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Katzav's Kremlin reception

By David Twersky
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001

WHIPPANY, N.J., — Following a Tuesday, Jan. 23 meeting with visiting Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Russian President Vladimir Putin said political upheaval in Washington, DC and Jerusalem wouldn't upset the Middle East peace process -- you can depend on Moscow.

Depending on Moscow isn't a very good idea for Israel, which is served by an American dominated diplomatic effort. It is unclear what benefits would accrue to Israel from granting the former KGB official Putin a place at the table.

But the real news from Moscow this week came Tuesday evening at a Kremlin reception for Katzav. According to our sources in Washington and Moscow, among the names the Israeli president's office requested for the invitation list were three rabbis, Adolf Shayevich, Berel Lazar and Pinhas Goldschmidt. Significantly, Putin's office only invited Lazar.

For most of the past year, Shayevich and Lazar have been dueling over the title of chief rabbi. Shayevich is associated with the Russian Jewish Congress, and Putin's ever more embattled political foe, media magnate Vladimir Goussinsky. (Goldschmidt is Moscow's head rabbi and is associated with Shayevich and the Congress).

When Putin decided to move against the ``oligarchs," many of them Jewish like Goussinsky, he needed protection from the charges of anti-Semitism sure to be revived in the West. Putin's interests found fertile soil among leaders of Russia's Chabad movement who formed their own Federation of Jewish Communities, naming Lazar chief rabbi. As the invitation list to the Katzav dinner shows, the government has not recognized and dealt equally with the different Jewish groups and denominations, despite an agreement hammered out last June. (The Congress has Reform and Conservative as well as Orthodox affiliates). Our Moscow sources say the government is trying to intimidate Jewish groups which are not part of the Chabad federation. In effect, they say, Lazar has become the government's rabbi, supporting Kremlin positions from increased involvement in the Middle East to the return of ``the Stalin hymn'' as Russia's national anthem and defending the attacks on Goussinsky as non-political.

In the good old Soviet days, the Kremlin had Sovietishe Heimland and other communist apologists. To Putin's credit, in a more complicated time, he has deployed a shrewder policy. All this may be quite convenient for Putin, but it does immense harm to the Jews.

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.


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