Leaders: Attack at Moscow synagogue enabled by Russia’s indifference

By Lev Krichevsky, JTA

MOSCOW — Jewish leaders have blamed Russian authorities, law enforcement agencies and societal atittudes for the stabbing attack this week at a Moscow synagogue, saying that the authorities have not responded properly to previous anti-Semitic and hate incidents.

“The entire world has seen what the lack of fight against fascism leads to today,” the Federation of Jewish Communities, Russia’s largest Jewish group, said in a statement Thursday.

Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s chief rabbis and a federation leader, demanded that Russian authorities react promptly to Wednesday’s incident.

“We won’t be silent,” Lazar told a news conference in Moscow on Thursday. “We are expecting that the state organs, law-enforcement agencies will take real measures so that” these types of incidents will not occur again.

The federation also said the attack was a direct consequence of earlier manifestations of anti-Semitism that Russian authorities left almost unnoticed. In particular, the group cited an infamous letter signed by some Russian lawmakers and public figures that in early 2005 called for a ban of Jewish organizations in Russia.

Some Russians seem to share this view; 81 percent of 3,992 callers to a popular Moscow radio station said this week’s attack was a sign of rising xenophobia and extremism in Russia.

Many groups are also looking into increased security. The Israeli Embassy is pressing Russia’s Foreign Ministry to install more security at Jewish institutions in the country. “Events in Moscow have aroused grave concerns,” said the embassy’s press secretary Mikhail Brodsky.

The incident took place just before the evening service, when the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue in downtown Moscow was full of worshippers.

The man, identified by police as Alexander Koptsev, 20, struck out at random before being pushed to the ground by Yitzhak Kogan, the shul’s rabbi, and Kogan’s son.

The attacker, with self-inflicted injuries, was checked into the same Moscow hospital as most of his victims. Police said the man will be arrested once his condition allows it.

All of his victims were in stable condition as of Thursday afternoon, and three had been released from the hospital. The injuries ranged from light to medium, but none was life-threatening, medical sources said, despite initial reports to the contrary.

Among those wounded were Russians, several Israelis, an American– Kogan’s son-in-law, Michael Mishulowin –and a rabbinical student from Tajikistan.

Witnesses said the attacker shouted, “I came to kill you,” and looked like a skinhead, but a source with the Moscow police told news agencies that the attacker is not a known member of any known neo-Nazi groups. Some sources have indicated the young man may suffer from a mental disorder.

Investigators classified the attack as attempted murder and “inflicting injuries out of ethnic or religious hatred,” which in Russia carry a maximum punishment of 12 years in prison.

The shul is one of the oldest in Moscow and serves as the base of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Russia, a Lubavitch organization.

North American Jewish groups expressed outrage over the incident. NCSJ, a group that monitors Jewish life in the region, “condemns the attack and calls for greater vigilance of religious sites,” Mark Levin, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

The FJC leadership called on the authorities to take tough measures against the existing neo-Nazi youth groups and against the publishers and distributors of anti-Semitic books that can be easily bought in public places in most of Russian cities.

Lazar said that even if it was the case, the rampage was a direct result of the atmosphere in a Russian society that easily tolerates xenophobia.

In the meantime, the federation said it has beefed up the security measures in all its synagogues across the country.

Russian synagogues usually hire private companies to provide security.

Another Russian Jewish umbrella group, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations, known as KEROOR, said it would call on its local constituents later this month in an attempt to raise funds to improve security measures at provincial synagogues and Jewish institutions.

“We cannot put security guards next to every Jewish grave or every single Jew,” said Vladimir Pliss, a spokesman for KEROOR.

“We should appeal to the authorities for protection. But in the end we should definitely take care of ourselves; no one will help us on that.”