Chief Rabbi Says No Anti-Semitism in Kazakhstan, Explains Why
A few days after the opening of the Central Asia’s largest synagogue in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana, we offer our readers excerpts from a statement by Rabbi Yeshaya E. Cohen, Chief Rabbi of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at the 2004 Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. The conference took place in Brussels on August 6, 2004 and was organized by the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy. I was asked to speak about anti-Semitism in Central Asia. In this context, I will G-d willing address the following topics: 1.The situation in Central Asia today with regards to anti-Semitism 2.The apparent cause and reason for this situation 3.What can and must be learned from this explanation 4.What I have personally seen been done in my country, Kazakhstan, in the attempt to prevent anti-Semitism and terrorism in general 5.The practical conclusions from all of the above, relevant to all of society I am pleased to inform that,
thank G-d, there is virtually no
anti-Semitism felt in Central Asia
at all. This is indeed very surprising,
but the fact is that there is an entire
region in the world that has not been
infected by the horrible malady of
The reason for this is simple:
Historically, anti-Semitism developed
in society in two independent
movements as two distinct phenomena.
There is the anti-Semitism that
developed in the countries of the West,
and there is the anti-Semitism that
developed in the countries of
the East. Each sprouted and spread
independently with its own outlook,
character, and style. Central Asia
fortunately finds itself right in the
middle of these two world regions and
historically was influenced neither by
the propaganda of the anti-Semitism
of the West nor by the propaganda of the anti-Semitism of the East. This indoctrination simply did not arrive to Central Asia, and as a result Central Asia has thank G-d remained pure and tranquil until this day, as the tradition and conduct of anti-Semitism did not flourish there.
We thus see that the primary cause for anti-Semitism is the propaganda and indoctrination that has been publicly advanced. In earlier times, it would take many years for an ideology to be propagated and slowly spread throughout society; today, however, the world has become smaller and with the advances and breakthroughs in the communications technology, such destruction can be wreaked in a remarkably short time and with little effort. It is sufficiently evident that the few rare and isolated incidents of anti-Semitism in Central Asia of recent times resulted from the influence of the foreign press. The countries of Central Asia recognize this danger and fear the damages that it can bring to their countries, as we had witnessed several days ago in Uzbekistan. I am proud to say that I personally have been living in Kazakhstan for ten years, and I can testify that thank G-d in all this time I have not encountered even one anti-Semitic incident. Even though I am always dressed in my traditional Jewish garb and I don't quite hibernate at home, and I am thus immediately identified from afar as a Jew, I have nevertheless not once heard even a single anti-Semitic insult or slur. Although the situation in Kazakhstan today is peaceful and quiet, her government feels that it cannot sit passively. As a government that is concerned about the welfare of its citizens, it constantly addresses the issues of tomorrow and recognizes that such crises can begin with a small smudge of anti-Semitism aimed strictly at Jews, escalating into terrorist assaults, followed by mass attacks costing the lives of hundreds or thousands. It is impossible to overestimate the extent of the eventualities of such a pattern. I have been curiously observing the activity and the tactics of the government, and particularly of the President, Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, and I have been extremely impressed and amazed. I can confidently say that the Republic of Kazakhstan can well serve as an authentic model to all countries with regard to preventing and eliminating anti-Semitism and terrorism. Mr. Nazarbayev maintains a fine balance between the right to religious expression and the need to curtail abuse of that right for aggressive ends. On the one hand, he grants absolute religious freedom to all faiths and confessions, and on the other hand, he does not allow any abuse of religion as a justification for propagation of ideologies or conduct of terror, violence, aggression, or anti-Semitism, which undoubtedly desecrate G-d and all religion. In Kazakhstan, every religion and faith enjoys complete freedom of expression and government support, evident by the fact that in the last few years countless religious institutions of all persuasions have been established. The Jewish community is certainly no exception, and among its new religious institutions boasts a magnificent, stately synagogue—which will formally open its doors a month from tomorrow—situated in the new capital, Astana, on a prestigious plot in the city center designated by the government for this purpose. The government assists and encourages all the various nationalities residing in Kazakhstan in all that regards their respective traditions and culture. The President founded the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, in which representatives of over 100 nationalities existing in Kazakhstan regularly convene. In the kindergartens, schools, and institutes you will find an emphasis on tolerance and love in the educational system. Several times a year, the schools hold performances on the traditions and cultures of the various nationalities that live in Kazakhstan. The newspapers, radio, and TV frequently broadcast pertinent information for dozens of upcoming holidays of numerous religions, which find and raise interest among the listeners in their own and their fellow citizens’ religious practice. Of particular interest is the TV program, 100 Nationalities of Kazakhstan, in which each show features the culture and tradition of another nationality, faith, or ethnicity. The government coordinates round-table discussions for religious leaders of all faiths—in neutral venues, so as not to offend any of the participants—not in order to facilitate debate between the religious leaders as to which religion is more correct, but rather to discuss the moral obligation of every believer in G-d to protect and care for every person, as we are all created by G-d. Last year, my dear friend [President of Institute on Religion and Public Policy] Mr. Joseph Grieboski and I had the opportunity to participate in a unique conference that the President arranged convening leaders of 17 diverse religions, for many of whom this provided the first opportunity to sit together and converse for two full days, to contemplate together how to increase love, tolerance, and harmony between all peoples. The conference concluded with a joint declaration signed by all the religious leaders declaring that religion has no place for terrorism and that G-d does not appreciate and cannot tolerate violence in the name of religion. Care is taken, however, that this freedom and support should not extend to supposedly religious ventures to kill, assault, terrorize, or aggravate others, which is clearly not what the license of religious freedom is intended for. The government uses all the resources at its disposal and the force of the law to immediately abort any such conduct. The government is well aware of the immense influence of the media and its ultimate purpose—to bring helpful information to the country's citizens—despite its destructive potential to propagate corruption to an extent that becomes virtually impossible to contain and reverse. When on one and only occasion, a local newspaper published an anti-Semitic article, the publisher was immediately brought to court, and the court closed down the newspaper before it managed to print another such article. Instead, the media is used for its intended purpose—to educate the public and to foster propriety and virtuous ideals. To this end, the government invites reporters to report on the many positive abovementioned events, enlightening millions and fostering harmony. It is most revealing that every schoolchild knows Kazakhstan to be the most multi-ethnical republic and is proud of it. As Kazakhstan, a young republic with barely ten years of independence behind her, has already managed to learn much from the experience of other countries and to incorporate many of their successful ideas—which is the secret to its success, both in the development of democracy and in its economic prosperity, as is known that, in Central Asia, Kazakhstan represents the symbol of progress and development—I am sure that so too, others can learn much from her experience and incorporate many of her successful ideas.
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Embassy of Kazakhstan to the USA and Canada
1401 16th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 232- 5488 ext. 104, Fax: (202) 232- 5845
Contact person: Roman Vassilenko
Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen (right) helps Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger (left) and Alexander Mashkevich, President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (second from right), present a Menorah to President Nursultan Nazarbayev (center) at a ceremony to dedicate the synagogue in Astana on September 7, 2004, as a member of the community looks on.
Photo by the Jewish Center of Kazakhstan “Chabad Lubavitch”