Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Chief Rabbi of Moscow -



Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I submit
the following written statement in my dual capacity as Chief Rabbi of Moscow and an officer of the Russian
Jewish Congress.

Without repeating what other witnesses have stated to you in person, I wish to briefly review the position of the
Russian Jewish Congress with respect to several issues of immediate concern and outline for you a new interfaith
leadership initiative which I have undertaken with colleagues from other religious denominations.

While the Law on Religion of the Russian Federation has not directly affected Russian Jewry, some of the leaders
of the Russian Jewish Congress were early and public critics of this legislation and continues to advocate for its
removal. Freedom for Jews depends upon freedom for all religious groups and upon the very underpinnings of
democratic civil society which the Religion Law threatens.

The Chechnya crisis has also involved the Russian Jewish community. Last November, the state-backed
ORT-TV channel accused Russian Jews of being a “fifth column” because of concerns the leaders of the Russian
Jewish Congress have expressed about the humanitarian costs of this operation. The Russian Jewish Congress
has recently organized two fact-finding missions to Dagestan, Ingushetia and other areas in the vicinity of
Chechnya in order to gauge the magnitude of the crisis for Jewish and non-Jewish residents and refugees. The
Russian Jewish Congress has arranged housing and employment assistance for dozens of Chechen refugees in
Moscow, and is currently arranging to place over 80 non-Jewish war refugees from Chechnya.

Anti-Semitism has indeed been on the rise during the past year, and the significant efforts of the U.S. Congress
and Administration have made an important difference in encouraging greater responsiveness on the part of
Russian officials. The Mayor of Moscow arranged adequate security for Moscow synagogues during last
autumn’s Jewish holiday season, following on a rash of attacks and attempted attacks on Jews and Jewish
institutions. This response, and the increasing but still-insufficient response of the Russian Government, are
motivated in no small part by specific Congressional efforts such as those originating with this Commission.
Ambassador Robert Seiple, who visited Russia last year as one of his first destinations as Ambassador At Large
for International Religious Freedom, has injected a voice of forceful compassion into the dialogue between the
U.S. and Russian governments, and I continue to be in regular contact with him and other officials within the
Department of State. The Russian Jewish Congress and I also work closely with the National Conference on
Soviet Jewry and other representative organizations of the American Jewish community.

I have recently begun coordinating an unprecedented interfaith leadership coalition within the Russian Federation,
with which the U.S. Congress and this Commission may be able to play an important role. This religious
leadership coalition represents the Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Islamic, Catholic and Lutheran communities of the
Russian Federation, seeks U.S. participation in realizing an innovative plan for interfaith cooperation.

Religion has often generated divisive trends within society, whether in ancient or recent history. Within most
religious denominations, the forces of moderation are under systemic attack from more extreme elements.
Religion also carries the potential for facilitating dialogue and cooperation within and between communities.
Leadership is indispensable in mobilizing such change, and common cause between religions is essential as both a
means and an end. Despite the significant cleavages and outstanding grievances within modern Russian society,
leading clergy from four disparate faiths have united to promote a common agenda of humanitarian action,
communal healing, and civil society.

To promote this unified and unifying vehicle, we are developing two programs.

1. A U.S. visit by a select, senior delegation of religious leadership representing the different faiths. This mission
will meet with high-level political leadership in Washington, DC, from the Executive and Legislative Branches as
well as relevant bodies such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the related Religious
Roundtable, and key representatives from the non-governmental community. Outside Washington, the religious
delegation will travel to one or two American cities for exchanges with inter-religious councils and
community-based assistance programs. In addition to providing the aegis for such a groundbreaking visit, the
United States also offers a broad range of useful models that clergy can apply to Russian society.

2. A substantive assistance program, possibly food aid, to be coordinated in conjunction with appropriate U.S.
Government agencies and qualified Russian-based religious organizations. Religious communities in the Russian
Federation have already engaged individually in the reliable distribution of food assistance. By cooperating in the
distribution of U.S. assistance, the inter-religious coalition will build the working relationships that are so vital in
addressing crises that arise in society in general and between religious faiths in particular. The agents of religious
moderation will gain credibility among and access to their own constituents. Russia’s progress toward
democratization will be expedited by a more engaged and involved public.

Given the pioneering nature of this proposal and the seniority of participating clergy (including those from
“non-traditional” religions), it is important that the programs receive the highest possible level of U.S. Government
involvement. With respect to the U.S. visit, official letters of invitation, a Presidential meeting, Congressional
meetings and a public event with religious and political leadership will all send a powerful signal to the members of
the delegation and to the Russian public. Coordination with this Commission, the U.S. Ambassador At Large for
International Religious Freedom and other dedicated offices will ensure that activities lead consistently toward
constructive and achievable results.

Regarding the assistance component of the proposal, I have already initiated discussions with the U.S. Embassy in
Moscow and with key officials in Washington, DC who have expressed the will to proceed expeditiously.
Russia’s volatile political and social landscape increases the need for innovative responses and narrows the
window of opportunity.

My colleagues and I, from a range of faiths including both “traditional” and “non-traditional” by the definition of
Russia’s unfortunate Law on Religion, look forward to working with the Members and staff of this Commission on
the interfaith initiative. Using faith-based channels to impact public and official attitudes within the Russian
Federation, we hope to move Russia forward on many issues and promote greater understanding of religious
freedom, civil society, and religious and ethnic reconciliation.