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Russian Prosecutors Investigating Anti-Semitism in Siberia

Russian prosecutors are investigating a case of alleged anti-Semitism involving a Russian Orthodox Church in the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg. This is one of the first times the state church has been investigated for possible anti-Semitic activity.

Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the sale of what Jewish groups describe as anti-Semitic material in Yekaterinburg.

The case was opened last month after 16 non-governmental organizations in the Yekaterinburg area complained that the Orthodox Church was selling anti-Semitic texts in church bookstores.

Specifically they objected to the sale of a book called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Jewish leaders say the book attacks Jews, calling them the anti-Christ and enemies of Christianity.

The book first appeared in 1903 and is about alleged Jewish plans to overthrow Christianity. The book was proved to be a forgery in 1921 but was used by Nazi Germany to justify persecution of the Jews.

Jewish leaders in Yekaterinburg say they complained for months to local officials but with no success.

Then Mikhail Oshtrakh, who heads a Jewish organization in Yekaterinburg went to Moscow for a meeting at the Kremlin with government officials and non-governmental organizations from throughout Russia. He spoke with officials about the sale of alleged anti-Semitic material in the Orthodox Church.

A few weeks later, prosecutors in Yekaterinburg opened a criminal investigation into whether the Orthodox Church had violated a law against inciting religious hatred.

Church officials from Yekaterinburg have rejected the charges, saying they are not anti-Semitic and the book does not incite religious hatred.

Anti-Semitism is banned in Russia, but there have been incidents of anti-Semitism in the country such as attacks against synagogues or cemeteries. During Soviet times, anti-Semitism was tolerated and even encouraged by the state. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Jews emigrated to the West.

No one has been charged in the case and Mr. Oshtrakh doubts that anyone will be. However, he says he is pleased that local officials are investigating the case.