reproduced from the English Weekly FORWARD
Activist Sues Russian Church Over Publication of "Protocols"
By S. A. GREENE
MOSCOW - 10 August 2001 - A lawsuit could lead to criminal charges against the Russian Orthodox Church for the publication of a book that includes the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
The landmark case - the first that threatens to subject the Church to sanctions under the five-year-old law outlawing the publication of hate literature - was brought by longtime Jewish activist Mikhail Oshtrakh. Mr. Oshtrakh found a copy of the compiled works of the tsarist-era priest Sergei Nilus, including the "Protocols," for sale in a local church in his Ural mountains city of Ekaterinburg.
"This book is sold in churches, was printed by a Church publishing house and was blessed by the Church," said Mr. Oshtrakh, regional head of Va'ad, Russia's oldest Jewish umbrella group. "It's one thing that Jews suffer this kind of defamation from marginals and radicals. But this is coming from the Church."
Nilus's 1905 book, a forgery in which he relates a supposed plot by Jews to take over the world, has been published here many times in recent years despite the hate-literature law. But the dozens of attempts by Jewish activists to prosecute publishers of the "Protocols" and other anti-Semitic books and articles have failed, at times descending into linguistic debates about the meaning of the Russian word "zhid," which translates roughly to "kike."
This is not the first time elements within the Church have been accused of anti-Semitism. Individual priests have frequently joined radical nationalists in calling for an end to Jewish influence in Russia, often propagating age-old myths, including the "Protocols" and the so-called blood libel.
Church-sponsored newsletters and
publishing houses have also published virulently anti-Jewish materials. But so
far the Church, as an organization, has remained relatively untainted ...
"Everyone knows that the 'Protocols' are a doubtful document," Father Chaplin said. "As a result, Church policy is to publish Nilus's book without including the 'Protocols.'"
But Mr. Oshtrakh has no doubts. The book was published in 2000 by the Dioptra St. Petersburg Orthodox Publishing House. Its title page reads "with the blessing of Archbishop Afanasy." And it is sold in Church kiosks, along with prayer books, icons and candles.
Under Russian procedures, Mr. Oshtrakh's complaint does not name a defendant. It is the prosecutor's responsibility now to investigate and decide whom, if anyone, to try under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, which outlaws "inciting ethnic or religious strife." To help speed the process along, Mr. Oshtrakh met with the local prosecutor and gave him a copy of the book as well as copies of local Church newsletters containing anti-Semitic comments.
All the same, he is not optimistic. "Honestly, I think the prosecutors will probably drop the case," Mr. Oshtrakh said. "But we still have to try."
Knowing that their test cases were likely to get nowhere in court, Mr. Oshtrakh and other activists long ago adopted a strategy of taking their struggle public, hoping to raise awareness of the problem through the press and, in so doing, put further pressure on prosecutors to carry cases through.
This case has been no exception.
Shortly after filing his complaint on July 27, Mr. Oshtrakh held a press conference and successfully garnered coverage in the local press. That, in turn, led the local Church diocese to accuse Mr. Oshtrakh of trying to "score political points." Local Church officials have since stopped commenting altogether.
Local reporters also picked up on an ongoing dispute between Mr.Oshtrakh and the local Chabad Lubavitch rabbi, Zelig Ashkenazi, who was quoted as criticizing Mr. Oshtrakh's publicity tactics. Some local newspapers went as far as to quote Rabbi Ashkenazi denying that the "Protocols" are anti-Semitic, although he had actually said the opposite.
"Clearly this book is inappropriate and we are concerned about its publication and sale," said Avrohom Berkowitz, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, of which Rabbi Ashkenazi is a member. Rabbi Ashkenazi himself declined to comment. "But this is not the way we believe the issue should be dealt with. We have constructive relations with the Church, and we believe the way to deal with these issues when they arise is through meetings. Going to the media is the last resort."
Along those lines, Rabbi Ashkenazi has scheduled a meeting with Ekaterinburg Bishop Vikenty to discuss the issue.
If that doesn't work, however, Mr. Oshtrakh says he will press ahead.
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