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January 29, 2014 4:56 pm

Jewish Groups Divided on Sochi Olympics and Human Rights

avatar by JNS.org

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.orgJewish groups remain concerned with human rights violations by the Russian government as preparations for the Winter Olympic Games gear up in Sochi, Russia. But recent gestures by Russian President Vladimir Putin may be a positive sign, some groups say. Security at the Olympics, meanwhile, remains a major concern.

“The human rights situation in Russia requires serious and sustained attention, particularly the high numbers of hate crimes, state-sponsored anti-LGBT discrimination, and state pressure on nongovernmental organizations. This high-profile event for Russia provides a chance to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBT community and to promote democratic ideals,” Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told JNS.org in a statement.

“This high-profile event for Russia provides a chance to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBT community and to promote democratic ideals. However, we do not support a boycott. Most importantly, our work will need to continue long after the Sochi Olympics end on February 23, and our suggestion has been to consider new ways for the U.S. to lead in the effort to have Russia address anti-LGBT persecution in the same way Jackson-Vanik dealt with Soviet Jews or the Magnitsky law addressed certain human rights violations,” Foxman said.

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But Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) director of Russian Jewish community affairs, told JNS.org that AJC is encouraged by the “recent declarations by a number of Russian officials that there will be no discrimination against any group or individual (at the games), including LGBT people, whatsoever.” In addition, “letting [oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodarkovsky [gain his] freedom and some other gestures and signals of goodwill coming from the Russian government indicate that Russia is much more interested in conducting the Games in the spirit of sports, peace, and cooperation,” said Kliger.

AJC, however, is concerned with security in light of recent Islamist terrorist threats made against the Games. “We hope that Russia will do its best to prevent any attempt of terrorist acts during the Olympics. The good sign is that Russia reportedly cooperates with the U.S. on security issues. Rumors are that cooperation with Israel is also on the way,” Kliger said.

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