Jewish Groups Give Mixed Response to ADL Call for Gay Rights Pressure on Russia

Compares Russia's LGBT Abuse to Soviet Treatment of Jews

Gay Rights: Protesters hold a demonstration against Russian anti-gay legislation in front of the Russian Consulate in New York on July 31. They want the Russian government to repeal the anti-gay propoganda law before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
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Gay Rights: Protesters hold a demonstration against Russian anti-gay legislation in front of the Russian Consulate in New York on July 31. They want the Russian government to repeal the anti-gay propoganda law before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

By Paul Berger

Published August 22, 2013.
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The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, both umbrella organizations, said they needed to poll member groups before they could commit to a position.

“We will certainly not refrain from condemning the legislation in Russia and asking that the United States use its diplomatic leverage with Russia to try to address this issue,” said Martin Raffel, the JCPA’s senior vice president. “Whether or not we should be using other tools, like a Jackson-Vanik type legislation, to respond is something I think we need to look at a bit more carefully.”

Although they would not say it, JCPA and NCSJ may be hamstrung by more Orthodox member organizations that do not support LGBT rights. [To clarify, Raffel told the Forward August 22 that the JCPA did not express any reservation in regard to Orthodox member groups and stressed that additional time was needed to determine whether a consensus exists for the ADL’s proposal.”] But other groups, such as the AJC and B’nai B’rith, could be acting cautiously because they were blindsided, and remain confused, by Foxman’s idea.

“My initial response was to be puzzled by it,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Yoffie said LGBT rights was “a matter of deep principle” for him. Yet he remained confused about how Foxman’s proposed legislation might work. Yoffie added that there are other parts of the world where anti-gay discrimination is much worse than in Russia.

“I need more information here and a strategic approach that makes sense to me,” Yoffie said. He added that groups such as the AJC might be sympathetic, but they may ”want to think through how you proceed” before lending their voice to the ADL’s call.

Russia’s June anti-gay law focused international attention on the plight of the country’s LGBT community, which has been under siege for years. Such scrutiny has been magnified by the upcoming Winter Olympics, to be held in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

LGBT activists question whether the law could affect visiting athletes and spectators. Some have called for a boycott of the Olympics. On August 9, President Obama said he opposed such a boycott. “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation than you’ve been seeing in Russia,” he added.

Russian officials stress that the law does not criminalize homosexuality. LGBT campaigners say it is so vague that it could even criminalize a teacher or parent telling a child that it is okay to be gay.

Such fears are set against a backdrop of widespread anti-gay feeling in Russia. A recent poll found that 88% of Russians are supportive of the new law.

In recent months, Russian police have stood by while youths attacked LGBT campaigners. Across the country, small groups of thugs calling themselves Occupy Pedophilia have been responsible for dozens of violent attacks on gay men that are filmed and then posted to YouTube or to a Russian social networking site, VKontakte.


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