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Top Russian Lawmaker Accuses Jews of ‘Pulling Down Our Churches’

(JTA) — The deputy speaker of the Russian parliament intimated that Jews are using their positions in the media and government to continue the work of ancestors who “pulled down our churches.”

Peter Tolstoy at a news conference Tuesday on plans to move a cathedral in St. Petersburg appeared to blame Jews for anti-religious persecution under communism. He referred to the descendants of people who on 1917 “jumped out of the Pale of Settlement” in the churches statement.

The Pale of Settlement was an area of western Imperial Russia beyond which most Jews were not allowed to settle. This changed after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, in which Russia became a communist country until 1991.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, one of the largest Jewish groups in the country, deemed Tolstoy’s statements anti-Semitic.

“Such statements usually come from irresponsible instigators of anti-Semitic campaigns,” Alexander Boroda, a Chabad rabbi and president of the federation, told Interfax Tuesday. “When we hear this from the mouth of the State Duma vice speaker at an official press conference, this is a direct undermining of interethnic coexistence in the country, and it stirs up tension.”

Boroda added that he expects officials “will address” the statement by Tolstoy.

Separately, a district court in the city of Yekaterinburg last week sentenced a taxi driver to 350 hours of community service after convicting him of incitement to hatred against Jews online. The defendant, Artemyu Podkorytov, set up pages on the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook in which he inveighed against “Jewish domination” of Russia and the world.

Across the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, many hold Jews responsible for communist oppression, even though the Jewish minority of these countries was among the groups most heavily targeted by communist regimes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2013 that at least 80 percent of the members of the first Soviet government were Jewish.

Putin, who is often accused of limiting civil liberties and violating human rights, is widely credited with cracking down on anti-Semitism and facilitating unprecedented growth among Russian Jewish communities.

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