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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Jay Michaelson, a Jewish LGBT activist in the United States, said that the beating of gay men in Russia should serve as a “wake-up call to the Jewish community” that anti-gay violence in Russia stems from the same ultra-nationalism that feeds Russian anti-Semitism.

Although the ADL is best known for its work combatting anti-Semitism, it also works for LGBT rights. A spokesman, David Robbins, said the ADL has initiated hate crime legislation in many American states and fought for including hate crimes against gays and lesbians in such legislation.

Michaelson, a vice president at the Arcus Foundation, which funds LGBT causes around the world, is helping coordinate efforts of American and Russian LGBT activists, including the ADL, to pressure Russia on its LGBT record.

Michaelson. who is also a columnist for the Forward, said the ADL “has been doing great work on [LGBT issues] for years.” Nevertheless, he added that American-Jewish groups are right to be cautious of Foxman’s proposal for congressional action. “If you listen to Russian LGBT activists, they’re not sure a hostile American governmental reaction will help,” Michaelson said.

He added that American political pressure might have little effect in Russia. Worse, it could play into Russia’s depiction of itself as an alternative to American decadence and a bastion of “traditional values and morality.”

Because the United States and Russia are members of the World Trade Organization, America cannot impose economic sanctions on Russia as it did with Jackson-Vanik. However, Foxman suggested that legislation similar to the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed sanctions on about two dozen Russians accused of human rights violations, might be possible.

“While having limited practical impact, the Magnitsky law hit politically sensitive areas and named and shamed specific individuals,” Foxman wrote in The Huffington Post.

Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said it would be difficult to pass such legislation in the Republican-controlled House. “Republicans have not been among the strongest supporters of LGBT rights,” Engel said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and a member of the House foreign affairs committee, agreed that such legislation had little hope of passing.

Rohrabacher said that although he had sympathy for Russian LGBT victims of repression, theirs was a “minuscule issue” compared with political and religious oppression and human rights violations in other parts of the world, such as China and countries governed by Islamic law. “Are we going to [call for similar legislation against] all these Muslim countries that also repress gays and people of other faiths?” Rohrabacher said.

Additional reporting by Seth Berkman

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger


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