Russia Hate on Rise — But Not Against Jews

Bigotry and Violence Aimed at Gay Men and Central Asians

New Targets: A gay rights activist is seen after clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg in 2013.
New Targets: A gay rights activist is seen after clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St. Petersburg in 2013.

By Paul Berger

Published February 10, 2014, issue of February 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Just three weeks before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, two dozen Russian reporters, photographers and cameramen squeezed into the spartan first-floor office of the Independent Press Center in Moscow, a five-minute walk from the capital’s main Orthodox church, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The journalists were there to see Ilya Farber, an artist and schoolteacher whose early release from a seven-year prison sentence had earned him a place alongside oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot and the crew of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise, as a symbol of political and judicial abuse in Russia.

Commentators could not help but note that although each was released for a different reason — a pardon, an amnesty, a judicial review — they all walked free in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, which began on February 7.

I had come to see Farber for a slightly different reason: because Western Jewish media perceived Farber’s case as the latest in a long line of outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Russia, stretching back through the persecution of Soviet Jews like Natan Sharansky, the blood libel trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis, czarist pogroms and beyond. This newspaper, to take just one example, reported Farber’s imminent release under the headline “Russian Jew Ilya Farber Ordered Freed — Corruption Trial Tainted by Anti-Semitism.”

But what I found instead was a more complex picture. Unlike Sharansky and Beilis, Farber — as is typical of many people with Jewish backgrounds in Russia today — has only one Jewish parent. He did not have a strong connection to his Jewish identity. Nor did he or other members of the Russian Jewish community view his case as being motivated particularly by anti-Semitism.

Indeed, Russian Jews, while not dismissing the fear out of hand, did not seem overly concerned by anti-Semitism at all. This, at a time when hatred of other minorities, notably against migrant workers from Central Asia, gay men and lesbians, is on the rise.

In the Farber case, the charge of anti-Semitism was based on a single statement made by the prosecutor during Farber’s corruption trial: “Could someone with a surname like ‘Farber’ help a village for free?”

Yet during his two-hour press conference, Farber’s Jewish roots and the prosecutor’s alleged anti-Semitic comment never came up. Instead, Farber, speaking softly and slowly, discussed Russia’s judicial system and prison conditions, issues related to human rights and whether he might one day emigrate from Russia.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.