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Calls for Protection Rise After Attack in Moscow

After last week’s stabbing attack in a Moscow synagogue — the worst antisemitic attack the country has seen in years — the Russian Jewish community is calling on its government to step up efforts to protect Jewish institutions and prosecute hate crimes.

A knife-wielding skinhead burst into Moscow’s Chabad-run Bronnaya synagogue January 11 shouting “I will kill Jews” and “Heil Hitler” before stabbing at least eight men. Yosef Kogan, the synagogue rabbi’s 18-year-old-son, wrestled him to the ground. Kogan held the assailant, 20-year-old Alexander Koptsev, until police detained him.

Koptsev has been charged with racially motivated attempted murder. On January 13, authorities quoted him as saying he stabbed the Jews during evening prayer because “they live better.” Reportedly the assailant also will be charged with actions aimed at humiliating religious groups.

Koptsev was reportedly a loner who wrote and read antisemitic rhetoric and had cased several other synagogues in the Russian capital before choosing his target. So far, authorities have not discovered any connections to a group or other individuals.

On Friday, a separate attack on a synagogue in southern Russia was thwarted.

Russian Jewish communal officials, who have long complained that antisemitic incidents are mostly treated as “hooliganism” by authorities, are scheduled to meet next week with president Vladimir Putin to discuss proposals to bolster security around synagogues, schools and other Jewish buildings. They are also expected to press for more stringent hate crimes legislation.

“We have a rise of nationalism and fascism in this country,” said Avraham Berkowitz, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. “This is the first time where there was unequivocally an act of antisemitism in the eyes of the government and they seem willing to act.”

Russian officials, including Putin, have severely condemned the attack, which has been covered widely by the state-controlled media. Police began patrols around Jewish sites over the weekend after the attack.

Putin has a close relationship with one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, the Chabad-affiliated Berel Lazar. The Jewish community is hoping that this bond will help produce concrete measures against neo-Nazi groups and individuals.

Russian Jewish leaders met with the country’s Interior minister and with the U.S. ambassador, Berkowitz said. He added that Jewish organizations are also in touch with representatives of other minority groups to coordinate their calls for more diligent action by law-enforcement authorities and state prosecutors in dealing with xenophobic and racist crimes.

In addition to pressing the authorities to take more action, the Federation of Jewish Communities also has set up a new security fund. The goal is to raise $1.2 million to equip all Jewish institutions with security devices such as metal detectors.

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