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August 18, 2013 5:53 pm

Jews Must Take a Stand on Russia LGBT Persecution

avatar by Abraham Foxman

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In center, Russian President Vladimir Putin sits between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres at a dedication ceremony for a monument in Netanya commemorating the Red Army's victory over the Nazis. Photo: GPO.

Problems in the U.S.-Russia relationship are many, including missile defense, nuclear disarmament, Syria and Edward Snowden. When President Obama appeared on Jay Leno’s show recently, he addressed another issue that should be included on the list of infractions: Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Official anti-gay harassment, which had been occurring for years, was codified in June when the Russian parliament passed, and President Vladimir Putin signed, a national law prohibiting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” The law criminalized advocacy for equal rights for LGBT individuals, gay-pride parades, and any distribution of information about the gay and lesbian community to minors.

President Obama rightly condemned the law as violating “basic morality.”

Jay Leno deserves praise as well for raising the issue. He told the president, “Something that shocked me about Russia. Suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany: Let’s round up the Jews. Let’s round up the gays. Let’s round up the blacks. I mean, it starts with that.”

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Leno’s only slip was with the analogy. The apt comparison is not Nazi Germany, but the former Soviet Union.

No one should suggest Russia is persecuting or rounding up gays like the Nazis did with Jews (and homosexuals, among others). But it is obvious that Russia is oppressing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in a manner similar to the ways in which the Soviet Union once oppressed the Jewish community.

Why were Soviet Jews sent to the gulag? It wasn’t just for being Jews — low-key observance in the privacy of their homes usually went unpunished — but there was a price to be paid for being Jewish in public or encouraging others to take pride in their Judaism.

While gays and lesbians in Russia are not being explicitly punished for their identity — the Soviet-era law that made gay sex a crime was officially repealed in 1993 — the violent response to protests against the new anti-gay propaganda law has shown that Russian authorities have repeatedly turned a blind eye to, and even encouraged, anti-gay violence.

This disturbing similar oppression of the LGBT community in Russia and that of Soviet Jewry should instruct us in how to respond. The Soviet Jewry movement was a long-fought human rights campaign, a massive and sustained public protest, combined with action by Congress and the Executive Branch.

The grassroots response is already beginning. Civil society organizations, both Russian and international, are discussing coordinated and broad advocacy campaigns in response to the anti-gay legislation, and there have been a flurry of op-eds and editorials on the subject in U.S. newspapers.

Government action should be developed in tandem. President Obama’s criticism followed several statements from administration officials, and these statements should ensure that anti-gay discrimination remains on the U.S-Russia bilateral agenda until Russia takes corrective action.

It will take more than just words. We need a new Jackson-Vanik to convince Russia that steps backward on this issue of basic human rights will be met with strong repercussions from the United States.

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment linked favorable trade status to the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate. That approach should now be explored again.

Jackson-Vanik was effective because it applied pressure on the former Soviet Union, which had imposed a “diploma tax” for Jews who sought to emigrate, to end the tax and eliminate barriers to free emigration. The amendment linked U.S. trade benefits, now known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations, to the emigration and human rights policies of Communist or formerly Communist countries.

Jackson-Vanik focused on one set of rights for one group, and yet it was one of this country’s most important and successful human rights initiatives.

We know the Russian government is sensitive to Congressional actions that impact its image, as shown in its sharp reaction to the Magnitsky Act. After Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer for an American investment company, was wrongly imprisoned in 2009 and killed through medical neglect, Congress legislated sanctions on Russian officials involved in persecuting him. While having limited practical impact, the Magnitsky law hit politically sensitive areas and named and shamed specific individuals.

A similar approach could be taken against those Russian officials responsible for persecuting LGBT individuals and advocates for their rights.

The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi are another ripe target, showcasing today’s Russia to a global audience. Demonstrating solidarity with the LGBT community at the games would be an excellent means of protesting anti-gay discrimination.

We should not make the mistake, however, of supporting an Olympic boycott similar to that pursued during the Soviet era. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan achieved nothing besides depriving our athletes of their chance to compete for Olympic gold.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a commitment to fight anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews engendered some of the foundational human rights instruments. The Jewish community remains deeply engaged in maintaining robust international human rights standards and institutions and in elevating human rights in international diplomacy.

Our community knows that by safeguarding Jewish rights, we advance the cause of rights for everyone. Taking bold action for the rights of LGBT communities to live in security and dignity will promote human rights for all.

The Soviet Jewry movement provides both a model and inspiration. We organized. We acted. We persevered. And we won. Today, we should do no less.

Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and co-author of “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet.”

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • ralph levitt

    By imposing his pathetic whine on us, Mr. Foxman tells us
    about himself and his milieu.
    Bowing down to the modern Greeks and Romans.
    Our ancestors were far more militant in opposition to homosexuality than Mr. Putin.
    His comments may be well accepted at donor cocktail parties
    or in progressive circles (with their gay and israel hating
    offspring) but it is offensive to those whose minds are not
    blurred by the latest trends and fads in society.
    The Emperor Tiberius would walk the streets of Rome seeking
    nursing mothers with male infants. Tiberius would remove the child from the mother’s teat and insert his penis in the child’s mouth for it to suckle.
    Such things do not appear in Jewish history or tradition
    (until the present).
    Shame on Mr. Foxman.

  • Lawrence Kulak

    You can censor me all you want, but the fact is that Jews do not form alliances with gays. Homosexuality is strictly against the Torah, and although Russian has largely been without a statewide religion, it apparently knows where to draw the line.
    What is truly sad is that we do not and this article demeans refusenicks as well as holocaust survivors. The Nazis only persecuted homosexuals after the practice was allowed to flourish in Berlin under the Weimar Republic. The Russians understand that the prelude to the spread of homosexuality is the spreading of its propaganda. There is nothing in the law it seems that discriminates or persecuted homosexuals. Hence, even those who believe that there is no choice cannot claim that homosexuals themselves are being oppressed.
    This law only seeks to maintaint the sanctity of society. Is Abe Foxman – and indirectly the Algemeiner endorsing anything otherwise? I’ll just remind everybody that the founder of the Algemeiner Gershon Jacobson would probably not have approved of this article being pubished. What about respect for his legacy?

  • Lawrence Kulak

    THIS ARTICLE IS AN OUTRAGE AND AN INSULT TO THE LEGACY OF THE FOUNDER OF THE ALGEMEINER GERSHON JACOBSON. SHAME ON SO CALL RABBI SIMON JACOBSON FOR PERMITTING SOMETHING LIKE THIS TO GO IN HIS SAINTLY FATHER’S PUBLICATION. I USED TO WRITE FOR THE ALGEMEINER WHEN GERSHON JACOBSON WAS ALIVE AND HE USED TO PERMIT ME PUBLISH ANTI-GAY ARTICLES AND EXPRESS THAT KIND OF SENTIMENT WHENEVER I WANTED. ABE FOXMAN IS NOT AN ORTHODOX JEW AND BY ADOPTING HIS VIEWPOINTS THE ALGEMEINER IS DEMONSTRATING THAT IT IS OFFICIALLY BREAKING FROM ORTHODOX RANKS. ALTHOUGH MR. JACOBSON WAS A LUBAVITCHER, HE DENIED THAT HIS NEWSPAPER WAS A LUBAVITCHER PUBLICATION. NEVERTHELESS IT WAS UNDENIABLY ORTHODOX AS WAS HE. BY PERMITTING THIS VIEWPOINT TO BE PUBLISHED IT IS LIKE IT IS BEING ADOPTED BY THE NEWSPAPER BUT IT IS PURE ANTI-JEWISH DRIVEL. THE FLOURISHING OF ABOMINATIONS SUCH AS HOMOSEXUALITY IN PRE-HOLOCAUST WEIMAR GERMANY MAY HAVE DIRECTLY LED TO THE GASSING OF THE JEWS. FOXMAN IS TYPICALLY MIXED UP; IT IS THE PRO-GAY PROPAGANDA THAT IS THE DANGEROUS THING AND THIS IS WHAT THE SOVIETS ARE RIGHTFULLY PROSECUTING. IF WE HAD THE SENSE TO DO THAT HERE WE WOULD NOT HAVE GAY MARRIAGE. IS THE ALGEMEINER NOW FOR THAT TOO?

    • Peter Hitchins

      Oh dear, what a sad article. How on earth could homosexuality in pre Nazi days in Germany have led directly to the gassing of Jews, unless of course the practicing of that homosexuality was all by Jews, or mainly so, which is nonsense of course, as is the posting by Mr. Kulak. But it tells us a lot.

      • Lawrence Kulak

        Peter Hitchens (perhaps a relative of Christopher?) ok, so you wanna know what homosexuality has to do with the gassing of Jews. there is something called a ‘reaction’ when society – often under the rule of some charismatic leader – decides it has had enough and bounces back radically in the opposite direction. The Germans decided they had enough suppression and moved to scapegoating all those that they felt had enjoyed too much freedom. But the evil inherent in their hypocrisy for persecuting homosexuals (many of the Third Reich leaders practiced homosexuality) may have given them a jumpstart toward eradicating the Jews. Just a theory Hitchens – you can now go back to being the same faglover you were.

  • Peter Hitchins

    I think what we are seeing here is the divergence by current Jews of thinking ability from those who prefer to do what they are told them, in this case from The Torah. What amazes me is that that is not recognised for what it is, a list of instructions all to do with hygiene, and as was relevant in those far off days in that part of the world with the climate as was, with limited bathing facilities and even less medical ones. Humanity has moved on whereas those ” instructions ” have stayed mired in the past and are now passed their sell by date. It is good that all peoples, whether Jews or otherwise, let the rulers in Russia know their views are antiquated and lag behind more enlightened countries where the people are more fair minded. So let’s hope Western countries make their objections known as forcibly as is necessary. This is not a Jewish matter per se but one of human advancement and that Jews are in the vanguard of the objectors reflects well on them, keeping up their being in the forefront of advancement of humane laws and behaviour. Maggie Thatcher tried the same sort of action in the UK as Putin is now and which when she had left office, was overturned, even by her own Party.

    • Peter Hitchins

      why is my posting awaiting ” Moderation ” over 24 hrs after it was put up. Explanation please Moderators. Thank you

  • Prof. Mortified.

    Abrahm Foxman has made a very important and clarifying statement.

    We now know what he stands for (or perhaps, what he doesn’t stand for).

    It is time for him to stand-down from any leadership position which purportedly champions Jewish affairs.

    Foxman must go. He represents no-one but himself. The general media have long maintained this. Now we know.

  • Dr.Zhivago

    Jews have enough issues to be concerned about. LGBT in Russia is not on of them. LGBT community is mostly leftist liberal and thus is on the side of the many Israel antagonists. Soviet Jewry movement was Jews concerned about Jews. There are as many LGBT people in the world as Jews. Let them fight this battle.

    • Mr. Foxman should spend more time addressing real issues facing the Jewish Nation, like defending Israel from the animus of this American President and the liberal secular Jews who have supported and enabled him. LGBT? While I sympathize with their plight aren’t most of them in that leftist political camp that routinely castigates Israel for all the evil in the world while giving a pass to the real enemies of peace in the Mideast, namely radical Islam.

    • Jake A. Hart

      I know we are a liberal and understanding people. Russia has a right to their point of view and we as jews have concerns that have nothing to do with what is going on in that or any other country, we have problems enough. Let’s focus on our own problems.
      I agree entirely.

  • Fred

    The shortcomings of the new Russian dictatorship manifest itself in prosecution, persecution, harrassments & murder of the LGBT minority . Yet, the world looks on fascinated but is slow doing something about it. Copy of Germany 1936 Olympics. Russia has not quite emerged from the Stalinist system. Systematic persecution is still the order of the day directed to the gays. Democracy is still an obscure idea. Boycott Sochi financial loss,prestige loss & loss of face might wake up Russia from barbarity.

  • Isn’t homosexuality listed as a perversion in the bible. If I’m correct doesn’t the Jewish Nation claim ownership of the Old Testament? If so it would appear to me that Mr. Putin is supporting Jewish values. We’re just shocked that there’s still a leader in the world who stands up for his beliefs. I’ve forgotten what Israelis stand for; other than the rights of those who feel downtrodden. Like Gays and convicted terrorists.

  • R

    It is utterly amazing to see that anti-Semitism still exists in most of the world, including the US. I wonder how many remember that Jesus lived and died – a JEW. Ask any Christian clergyman!

  • ralph levitt

    Rather than opposition, the Russians should be applauded for taking action against this gangrenous infection.
    Homosexuality has nothing to do with Jews or blacks.
    The Nazi SA was in fact one of the biggest homosexual organizations in history.
    One aspect of our opposition to Roman overlordship was
    their widespread practice of homosexuality which disgusted
    the Jewish people. And this was true of the Seleucid Greeks
    as well.
    Hadrian had a “boy toy,” Antoninous whom he deified after
    the boy drowned in the Nile.
    This type of thing does not appear in Jewish history to any
    serious extent.
    So—-thank you, Mr. Putin. You’re a mamzer but not on this subject.

  • robert zucker

    Intelligence did not save Foxman from the Holocaust, and he has learned nothing from it. Rather he supports abomination. His world view is antithetical to Torah Judaism (gay and abortion rights). He does not stand for Judaism and the Jewish people. He does not understand that every moment we are sustained by the Master of the Universe so that we can fulfill our Covenant with Him.

  • John Castle

    LBGT behavior is a violation of Torah. Lot got run out of town due to the attack on his home by such behavior. Homosexuals live an average of 10-20 years less than heterosexuals, have a higher incidence and prevalence of addictions. Give me a break. LGBT actions are destructive to the home, the foundation of society and civilization. This behavior is decried by Torah observant Jews and Biblical observant Christians. I say good for the Russians that make the propagation of such lifestyle illegal. Now remember, I didn’t say I supported any kind of physical repression.

  • DovidM

    I don’t see how our community has an interest in this as a Jewish cause. There are more obvious issues affecting Yidden in Russia than this one.

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