As Russian race nears, Jews fear Communist upsurge

Moscow's chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said the Jewish community is concerned because of uncertainty surrounding Zyuganov's intentions. Goldschmidt questioned whether Zyuganov would allow Jewish emigration to continue freely, alluding to uncertainty over "what [Zyuganov] thinks about equal rights toward minorities."

"Is Zyuganov a Social Democrat," Goldschmidt wondered, "or a Stalinist?"

Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said a Zyuganov victory would have significant negative repercussions for the Jewish community.

He added that at least some of the uncertainty about Zyuganov's policies concern the structure of the Communist Party itself.

"The Communist Party is not a monolithic unit," he said. "It includes four groups that would pursue four different policies.

"If the Communists make a comeback, the life of the country's Jews would be deeply influenced" by the relative strengths of these forces within the Kremlin.

Jewish businessmen, along with many others in Russia's financial and business community, reacted last week with a mixture of skepticism and outright hostility to Zyuganov's freshly published economic program.

They sharply criticized his economic blueprint, especially its plans to close the Russian market to imports, to take more direct control of the oil and gas industries and to increase social and military spending at the risk of fueling inflation.

Mark Philippov, marketing director of a Moscow construction company, predicted that a Communist victory would have immediate and sharply negative economic consequences, including "a drastic drop in imports, more capital flight, price hikes and less foreign investment."

A Jewish analyst at the Russian Credit Bank who asked not to be identified said the Communists' economic plans were a threat to business, but he considered the program mere pre-election propaganda.

"I'm sure the Communists are bluffing," the analyst said. "If they were not able for 70 years to do much of what they talk about in their new program, it's hard to believe they would be more successful this time."

Roman Spector, acting president of Va'ad, the Jewish Federation of Russia, said that if the Communists' economic blueprint were implemented, it could spell the end of the financial support Russian Jewish organizations recently started receiving from wealthy members of the community.

That support came mainly from a group of Russian Jewish bankers who had amassed fortunes in the period of reforms initiated during Boris Yeltsin's presidency, Spector said.

But if the Communists took power, they would nationalize the banks, drying up a major source of help for the community, he added.

Recent polls indicate that Yeltsin would win 35 percent of the vote, while Zyuganov would gain 24 percent.

But because of the large number of other candidates in the presidential election, a runoff will be held July 7 if, as expected, no candidate captures more than 50 percent of the first vote.

In a head-to-head runoff, Yeltsin could capture as much as 46 percent of the vote compared with Zyuganov's 30 percent, according to the latest polls.

But Zyuganov's anti-Semitic comments detract from any comfort Russian Jews could take from the uncertain polling data.

"What would you expect from a politician who is seriously talking about `international Jewish capital?'" asked Ilya Zhivotovsky, a 24-year-old Hebrew instructor at a Moscow Jewish day school.

With his strong nationalist bent, Zyuganov is fond of blaming Western powers for most of Russia's economic ills. During a recent campaign stop in central Russia, he also alluded to Western-supported "ethnic and religious separatist movements" that he said share blame for the Soviet Union's collapse.

Local Jewish leaders also note that Zyuganov is surrounded by many who harbor even stronger anti-Semitic sentiments than he does.

Late last month, the transcript of a recent Communist leadership plenum was made public. Originally the plenum was closed to the media. A Moscow daily quoted one of the participants who gave a rambling anti-Semitic speech.

"Lies have always been and still remain the weapon used by Zionists," the speaker was quoted as saying. "Who rules over us? I mean [who are they] by their ethnic origin?

"In all structures of power, there are ethnic and religious aliens. Today, it's about time not to fear [them] and treat them the way they treat us."

Spector of the Va'ad said, "I don't think that if Zyuganov should win, he will start with anti-Semitism, but no one could guarantee the Communists won't end with it."

Osovtsov of the Russian Jewish Congress was more pessimistic, saying that the Communists would inevitably move toward the state-sponsored anti-Semitism of the Soviet era.

"In the event of a Communist comeback, Jewish emigration will increase sharply within days," he added.

But even though Zyuganov's potential policies are unclear, his party platform contains a reference to stopping the "outflow of intellectuals" from Russia — an apparent reference to the more than 600,000 Jews who have left the former Soviet Union since 1989.

Russia's chief rabbi, Adolph Shayevich, said that if Zyuganov wins, no religious denomination would receive any state support.

He added that he felt no optimism whatever for the future of the Russian Jewish community under Communist rule.