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January 24, 2018 1:21 pm

Russian Professor Kicks Moscow State University Jewish Student Out of Exam Room for Wearing Kippah

avatar by Ben Cohen

A kippah. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

A top official at Moscow State University came to the defense on Wednesday of a geography professor accused of discriminating against a Jewish student as he arrived for an exam earlier this week.

The student, Lev Boroda, entered the classroom where the test was being held on Monday wearing his kippah, the skullcap worn by observant Jews. The invigilator, Prof. Vyacheslav Baburin, told Boroda to either remove his kippah or leave the classroom. Boroda stood his ground and was prevented from taking the exam, according to a report of the incident published by the Sova Center — a Moscow-based research institute that monitors antisemitism, racism and hate crime in Russia.

Boroda issued an emergency appeal to the university’s administration, who arranged for him to sit the exam with a different supervisor.

Prof. Baburin’s boss at Moscow State University, Geography Department Dean Sergei Dobrolyubov, issued a fulsome defense of his subordinate, citing campus rules that forbid the wearing of headgear and head coverings.

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“He had every right to do what he did,” Dobrolyubov told the Moskva news agency.

Baburin personally defended his actions on Wednesday, telling Kommersant-FM radio: “I don’t care who he is — a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Sikh.”

However, Boroda has reported experiencing antisemitism on the campus on other occasions. Last October, he was told by another academic to become “baptized” as a Christian after requesting to be excused from classes on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

The antisemitism of the Tsarist and communist periods of Russian history continues to be a factor in the country’s political life today. The most recent annual antisemitism report from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry noted that there had been several incidents of antisemitic violence over the previous twelve months, as well as numerous instances of antisemitism in the media and politics.

“‘Old’ antisemitic propaganda is very common,” the report observed. “Blaming the Jews for all of Russia’s misfortunes and crises, the communist revolution in 1917, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, etc. In addition, there is a tendency to depict organizations that are known for their antisemitic views, such as the Black Hundreds, as acting for the benefit of the public, without mentioning their antisemitic activity.”

The Kremlin regularly trumpets President Vladimir Putin’s warm relations with local Jewish leaders, while Russian state-media outlets recently quoted Aleksandr Boroda — the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia — as saying that Russia’s current antisemitism problem was “minimal.”

One of the state outlets that reported on Boroda’s comments, the English-language broadcaster RT, claimed the Russian Jewish leader had said that “Russian Jews would be in serious danger if President Vladimir Putin was ever ousted from power.” Boroda was also said to have stated that Putin’s government provides “more guaranteed support for Jews than the governments in Europe and the US.”

Even so, antisemitic incidents in Russia occur with more frequency than Putin and his defenders care to admit. Documentation gathered by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center over the last twelve months includes Molotov cocktail attacks on Jewish communal buildings and synagogues, as well as several examples of public figures attacking Jews. In the most recent incident, a car belonging to the head of the Jewish community in the northwestern city of Murmansk was reportedly set on fire, shortly after a swastika was found daubed on the local synagogue.

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