Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Jewish silence in the face of atrocities in Chechnya?


In recent days, reports have emerged about authorities in Chechnya rounding up scores of gay men, imprisoning them, beating them, with many dead.  Reports are now coming to light of concentration camps where gay men are being held and subjected to brutality, torture and murder.  Apparently, this deplorable treatment is in response to the application of a Moscow-based gay rights group to hold Pride parades in the region. Chechen authorities are denying these claims.  Alvi Karimov, a Chechen spokesman told Interfax, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

These reports of purging, murder, brutality and erasure are disturbing enough in themselves.  But this Passover, I am struck by another disturbing reality:  American ignorance of this issue in general, and Jewish ignorance in particular. Of course, we are living in times where our news cycle is overwhelmed with rising threats over Syria, North Korea and Russia.  At home, our media is beset over the latest scandal du jour in connection with the presidency.  It is indeed very difficult these days  to notice what is happening in a small republic in the north Caucasus mountains.

But we cannot afford not to notice.  If we have been paying attention to the meaning of our Passover seders, we know that we ourselves are a people who were brutalized, oppressed and murdered simply for being who we are.  We have gathered as families and communities, telling our story of having been refugees of slavery.  And we emerge from our seders with a clarion call to invite ‘all those who are hungry to come and eat’ together with us.  The beginning of our ethics, and our very Jewish identity, lies in our ability to empathize and to act on behalf of all those who still know the oppression that we have known.  And after the Holocaust, with Chechen authorities rounding people up, putting them in concentration camps, and murdering them, the silence of the Jewish people on this issue is unconscionable.

A danger inherent in the Passover experience is to read the Haggadah only in tribal, particularist terms:  God’s unique love and rescue of our people vindicates our people alone, and denigrates all other peoples.  That danger extends to all the times that we fail to see the story of who we are reflected in others, simply because those others are so different from ourselves.  I once spoke to an American Jewish woman who was a young mother during the years of the Second World War.  I asked her if she knew at the time about the internment of Japanese Americans, and she answered yes.  When I asked her what she thought about that internment during those years, she responded that there was a war going on!  She felt that it was not the time or place to speak out against such a thing, and frankly, it didn’t occur to her at the time to speak out.

The essence of Passover is that we, ourselves, were the ‘other.’ We, ourselves, were the ones whose plight was ignored by those who might speak up.  To be Jewish is to be, eternally, the other.  And in a very real sense, all those who are oppressed and erased must become a part of our people.  The gay men in Chechnya may seem so far away and other to us.  But in this case, they literally are us, as the story of the Jewish people is, and always has, included the story of LGBT people.

The good news is that our people do respond so often when called upon to speak out on behalf of the oppressed.  Organizations like HIAS and others are doing great work to raise awareness and to act on behalf of refugees and others in dire need of our help.  The challenge, however, is to endeavor to notice those who have escaped our attention–perhaps because their plight feels too far beyond our reach, or their stories too ‘other’ and different from anything we can relate to.  The most Jewish thing we must do, however, is to speak out and act on behalf of the very ones who seem the most ‘other’ to us.  It is only through their redemption that our own redemption from slavery can truly become complete.


Gil Steinlauf is a prominent Conservative movement rabbi in Washington, DC.  His opinions are his own.

Rabbi shot in Russia released from Israeli hospital


A Chabad rabbi shot in what authorities have called a likely terrorist attack in southern Russia was discharged from an Israeli hospital.

Rabbi Artur Ovadia Isakov, 40, was released from Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah on Sunday. He had surgery to repair his liver there.

Isakov was airlifted to Israel after being shot July 24 as he exited his car and headed into his home in Derbent, in the predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan near Chechnya.

Authorities have said it was likely a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists.

Isakov, a father of four, told Israeli media he intends to return to Derbent as soon as he is well.

Upon  he thanked communities and individuals throughout the world for their assistance, Chabad.org reported.

Rabbi shot in southern Russia in possible anti-Semitic attack


A Chabad rabbi working in southern Russia was shot and seriously wounded in what police say may have been an anti-Semitic attack.

Unknown assailants shot Artur (Ovadia) Isakov, 40, on Wednesday night as he exited his car and headed into his home in Derbent, in the predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan near Chechnya, according to Jtimes.ru, a Russian-Jewish news site.

One bullet entered his right lung and his liver, according to the report. Isakov cried out for help after he was hit and was evacuated to a hospital at about 1 a.m. RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency, reported that he has been put on an artificial respirator and is in intensive care.

Police said they are considering “religious motivations” but are exploring all leads.

Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of Dagestan, released a statement blaming “extremists and terrorists [who] do not want a happy, normal life for us all.” He said, “Only ignorant people, enemies of Dagestan, are able to do this. Dagestan is outraged.”

Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi, has chartered a plane to transport Isakov to Israel as soon as his condition becomes stable enough to permit travel, according to Israel Radio.

In a statement, the European Jewish Congress expressed “deep concern and shock” following the shooting.

“We are of course aware of the growth of Islamist extremism in the region, and violence perpetrated by these groups, but we should reserve comment while we await the results of the police investigation,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the organization’s secretary-general.

Suspected marathon bomber may never speak again, Israeli director of Boston hospital says


Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may never speak again, the expatriate Israeli director of the Boston hospital where Tsarnaev is being treated told an Israeli news site.

Tsarnaev, 19, was wounded in his throat, Kevin Ilan Tabb of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Ynet.

Tabb is a board member of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, where he studied medicine and completed his residency.

“Unfortunately, I have had a lot of experience with these types of injuries after years of treating people injured in terror attacks in Israel,” Tabb, 49, told Ynet.

He added, “We have a few Israeli doctors in the emergency room, and the director of the ER is also Israeli. But most of the physicians at the hospital are not Israeli, and they functioned exceptionally well.”

Police have been unable to question Tsarnaev, a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who was captured following a 24-hour chase that left the Boston area in lockdown.

Tsarnaev was captured Friday night hiding in a winterized boat in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass., and was hospitalized in serious condition. He was wounded during an early Friday morning shootout with police that killed his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, who also had been a suspect in the April 15 marathon bombing.

During the chase through Boston-area suburbs, a campus officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was killed and a transit policeman was seriously wounded.

The two bombs allegedly planted by the Tsarnaevs at the marathon's finish line killed three people and wounded more than 180.

“I’m confident that we have the courage and the resilience and the spirit to overcome these challenges and to go forward,” President Obama said in a statement from the White House shortly after Tsarnaev was captured.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev reportedly became indoctrinated in radical Islam and influenced his younger brother. Both Tsarnaevs, originally from the Chechnya area of Russia, are naturalized U.S. citizens.

One suspect dead, another on the run in Boston bombings


Police killed one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing in a shootout and mounted house-to-house searches for a second man on Friday, with much of the city under virtual lockdown after a bloody night of shooting and explosions in the streets.

Authorities cordoned off a section of the suburb of Watertown and told residents not to leave their homes or answer the door as officers in combat gear scoured a 20-block area for the missing man, who was described as armed and dangerous.

Officials identified the hunted man as Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, and said the dead suspect was his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.

The fugitive described himself on a social network site as a minority from southern Russia's Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and other predominately Muslim regions that have seen two decades of unrest since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Boston came to a virtual standstill after authorities urged everyone to stay at home. Public transportation throughout the metropolitan area was suspended, and air space was restricted. Universities including Harvard and M.I.T. and public schools were closed.

In Watertown, the lockdown cleared the streets for police. Waves of officers descended upon the town, racing from one site to the next where they believed the suspect might be hiding. Officers periodically barked orders at reporters to move back.

The events stunned the leafy suburb, a wooded former mill town that has a large Russian-speaking community.

During the night, a university police officer was killed, a transit police officer was wounded, and the suspects carjacked a vehicle before leading police on a chase that led to one suspect being shot dead.

Police destroyed what they believed to be live ordnance in a number of controlled explosions throughout the morning.

Police were searching for the younger Tsarnaev, previously known only as Suspect 2, who was shown wearing a white cap in surveillance pictures taken shortly before Monday's explosions and released by the FBI on Thursday.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who has come here to kill people. We need to get him in custody.”

The older brother, previously known as Suspect 1, who was seen wearing a dark cap and sunglasses in the FBI images, was pronounced dead.

The FBI on Thursday identified the men as suspects in the twin blasts believed caused by bombs in pressure cookers placed inside backpacks left near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three people and wounded 176 in the worst attack on U.S. soil since the suicide hijacking attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

INTERNET POSTINGS

The brothers had been in the United States for several years and were believed to be legal immigrants, according to U.S. government sources. Neither had been known as a potential security threat, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said Friday.

A Russian language social networking site bearing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's name paid tribute to Islamic websites and to those calling for Chechen independence. The author identified himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He said he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders on Chechnya, and listed his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” was listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” as “career and money.”

He posted links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles such as “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts.”

He also had links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for independence after two wars in the 1990s.

STEP BY STEP

About five hours after the FBI released the surveillance pictures showing the two men near the bombing site on Thursday, a university police officer was shot and killed on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Middlesex County District Attorney said in a statement.

A short time later, police received reports of a carjacking by two men who kept their victim inside the car for about half an hour before releasing him, the statement said.

Police pursued that car to Watertown, where explosives were thrown from the vehicle at police and shots were exchanged, the statement said.

“During the exchange of the gunfire, we believe that one of the suspects was struck and ultimately taken into custody. A second suspect was able to flee from that car and there is an active search going on at this point in time,” said Colonel Timothy Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police.

The wounded suspect was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he died with multiple injuries including gunshot wounds and trauma that may have been caused by an explosion, said Dr. Richard Wolfe, chief of emergency medicine.

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Alex Dobuzinskis, David Bailey, Peter Graff; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Storey and Doina Chiacu

Boston suspect’s web page venerates Islam, Chechen independence


Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted links to Islamic websites and others calling for Chechen independence on what appears to be his page on a Russian language social networking site.

Abusive comments in Russian and English were flooding onto Tsarnaev's page on VK, a Russian-language social media site, on Friday after he was identified as a suspect in the bombing of the Boston marathon.

Police launched a massive manhunt for Tsarnaev, 19, after killing his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a shootout overnight.

On the site, the younger Tsarnaev identifies himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It says he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders Chechnya, and lists his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” is listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” is “career and money”.

He has posted links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles like “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts”.

He also has links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for secession after two wars in the 1990s.

The page also reveals a sense of humour, around his identity as a member of a minority from southern Russia's restive Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and other predominately Muslim regions that have seen two decades of unrest since the fall of the Soviet Union.

A video labelled “tormenting my brother” shows a man resembling his dead brother Tamerlan laughing and imitating the accents of different Caucasian ethnic groups.

He has posted his own joke: “A car goes by with a Chechen, a Dagestani and an Ingush inside. Question: who is driving?”

The answer: the police.

Elsewhere on the Internet, a photo essay entitled “Will box for passport” shows the older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev practicing boxing at a gym. The captions identify him as a Chechen heavyweight boxer, in the United States for five years.

“I don't have a single American friend,” one caption quotes him as saying. “I don't understand them.”

Reporting by Peter Graff; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Marathon bomb suspect eludes police, hunt shuts Boston down


Black Hawk helicopters and heavily armed police descended on a Boston suburb Friday in a massive search for an ethnic Chechen suspected in the Boston Marathon bombings, hours after his brother was killed by police in a late-night shootout.

The normally traffic-clogged streets of Boston were empty as the city went into virtual lockdown after a bloody night of shooting and explosions. Public transport was suspended, air space restricted and famous universities, including Harvard and MIT, closed after police ordered residents to remain at home.

Officials identified the hunted man as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and the dead suspect as his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed Thursday night in the working class suburb of Watertown.

Details emerged on Friday about the brothers, including their origins in the predominantly Muslim regions of Russia's Caucasus, which have experienced two decades of violence since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The fugitive described himself on a social network as a minority from a region that includes Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

A man who said he was their uncle said the brothers came to the United States in the early 2000s and settled in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area.

“I say what I think what's behind it – being losers,” Ruslan Tsarni told reporters in suburban Washington. “Not being able to settle themselves and thereby hating everyone who did.”

Tsarni said he had not spoken to the brothers since 2009.

He said Monday's bombings on the finish line of the world-famous Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured 176 “put a shame on our family. It put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity.”

The bombing, described by President Barack Obama as “an act of terrorism,” was the worst such attack on U.S. soil since the plane hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001.

The FBI said the twin blasts were caused by bombs in pressure cookers and carried in backpacks that were left near the marathon finish line as thousands of spectators gathered.

Authorities cordoned off a section of the suburb of Watertown and told residents not to leave their homes or answer the door as officers in combat gear scoured a 20-block area for the missing man, who was described as armed and dangerous.

The manhunt has covered 60 percent to 70 percent of the search area, Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said Friday afternoon. “We are progressing through this neighborhood, going door-to-door, street-to-street,” he said.

Two Black Hawk helicopters circled the area. Amtrak said it was suspending train service between Boston and New York indefinitely and the Boston Red Sox postponed Friday night's baseball game at historic Fenway Park.

The events elicited a response from Moscow condemning terrorism and from the Russian-installed leader of Chechnya, who criticized police in Boston for killing an ethnic Chechen and blamed the violence on his upbringing in the United States.

“They grew up and studied in the United States and their attitudes and beliefs were formed there,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in comments posted online. “Any attempt to make a connection between Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs is in vain.”

INTERNET POSTINGS

The brothers had been in the United States for several years and were believed to be legal immigrants, according to U.S. government sources. Neither had been known as a potential security threat, a law enforcement official said on Friday.

A Russian language social networking site bearing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's name paid tribute to Islamic websites and to those calling for Chechen independence. The author identified himself as a 2011 graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He said he went to primary school in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan, a province in Russia that borders on Chechnya, and listed his languages as English, Russian and Chechen.

His “World view” was listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” as “career and money.”

He posted links to videos of fighters in Syria's civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles such as “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts.”

He also had links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for independence after two wars in the 1990s.

Video posted on NJ.com showed a woman, Alina Tsarnaeva, who described herself as a sister of the suspects.

“I'm not OK, just like anyone else is not OK,” she told reporters from behind the closed door of an apartment in West New York, New Jersey.

She said the older brother “was a great person. He was a kind and loving man. To piss life away, just like he pissed others' life away … “

She said of the younger brother, “He's a child.”

HOUSE-TO-HOUSE SEARCH

In Watertown, the lockdown cleared the streets for police, who raced from one site to the next. The events stunned the former mill town, which has a large Russian-speaking community.

During the night, a university police officer was killed, a transit police officer was wounded, and the suspects carjacked a vehicle before leading police on a chase that led to Tamerlan Tsarnaev being shot dead.

“During the exchange of the gunfire, we believe that one of the suspects was struck and ultimately taken into custody,” Alben said.

The suspect died of multiple injuries including gunshot wounds and trauma, said Dr. Richard Wolfe, chief of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The older brother was seen wearing a dark cap and sunglasses in surveillance images released by the FBI on Thursday. The younger Tsarnaev was shown wearing a white cap in the pictures, taken shortly before Monday's explosions.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” said Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We believe this to be a man who has come here to kill people. We need to get him in custody.”

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Alex Dobuzinskis, David Bailey, Peter Graff, Stephanie Simon, Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Aaron Pressman, Daniel Lovering and Ben Berkowitz; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans arrested in connection with arson attack


Some members of the Beitar Jerusalem's nationalist and extremist fan club were arrested in connection with the arson attack on the soccer team's office and trophy room.

Jerusalem police arrested as many as seven fans belonging to the club called La Familia; more arrests reportedly are coming.

The alleged arsonists reportedly were identified through electronic surveillance.

La Famillia said it would suspend its activities due to the recent events, including the harsh reaction to the hiring of two Muslim team members from Chechnya. The club occupied the bleachers at the eastern side of the soccer field; the eastern bleachers have been ordered closed for the next five games by the Israel Football Association's disciplinary court.

Memorabilia and team records were damaged in the Feb. 8 fire.

“The history of Beitar has gone up in flames,” property caretaker Meir Harush told the news site NRG.

The attack followed the indictments that day of four Beitar Jerusalem fans suspected of incitement against Arabs and Muslims. On Jan. 26, the indictment said, the four men, all in their 20s, called “death to the Arabs” while watching a game from the bleachers.

On Feb. 10, some 35 supporters of Beitar Jerusalem were removed from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem for racist chanting.