Mr. President, on January 11 of this year, at the Moscow Headquarters and Synagogue of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union, a so-called “skinhead” attacked worshippers with a knife and wounded eight persons. I know that all Members of this body deplore this terrible crime and send our prayers and best wishes to all those injured during the assault.
The victims of this senseless violence include Rabbi Isaac Kogan, who testified before an April 6 Helsinki Commission hearing I convened last year concerning Chabad’s ongoing efforts to retrieve the Schneerson Collection of sacred Jewish texts from Moscow. The Rabbi is a noted refusenik who was appointed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, to be part of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union. In addition to nurturing Judaism throughout the former USSR, that organization has fought tirelessly to win the return of the Schneerson Collection to its rightful owners in the United States. The entire U.S. Senate has twice petitioned the Russian leadership to release those holy texts.
As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have followed closely the issue of anti-Semitism and extremism around the world. Unfortunately, the brutal attack at the Agudas Chasidei Chabad synagogue fits what appears to be a rising trend of attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in Russia.
Let me present one disturbing statistic. According to an article in the Moscow News last year, the Moscow Human Rights Center reports that Russia has up to 50,000 skinheads with active groups in 85 cities. This is opposed to an estimated 70,000 skinhead activists throughout the rest of the world.
To make matters worse, there are indications that the police themselves are sometimes involved in racist attacks. Earlier this month, a Russian newspaper carried a story about the Moscow police assault of a passerby who happened to be from the North Caucasus. According to persons from the North Caucasus, such beatings are a common occurrence.
What was uncommon was the fact that the gentleman in question is a colonel in the Russian Army and an internationally known cosmonaut.
Let me be clear, anti-Semitism, bigotry, extremist attacks and police brutality are not found only in Russia. Our own country has not been immune to these challenges to rule of law and human dignity.
Nevertheless, as Russia accedes to the chairmanship of the G-8 and the Council of Europe, there will be increased scrutiny of its commitment to internationally recognized standards of human rights practices. I urge the authorities in Russia to do everything in their power to combat ethnic and religious intolerance and safeguard the religious freedom and physical safety of all it citizens.