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Group asks Russian Church to decide: Babylon or Jerusalem?

Sunday, January 5, 2003

MOSCOW Dmitry Radyshevsky has watched how the Christian Right has turned churches in the United States into bastions of support for Israel. Then, he thought, why can't the same thing be done in Russia?

Radyshevsky, executive director of the Tel Aviv-based Mikhail Chernoy Foundation has been making the rounds in Moscow and abroad to convert the Russian Orthodox Church into a pro-Israel and pro-Jewish force. His message, novel for a country that for centuries has been characterized as anti-Semitic, is that Russian Orthodox Christians and their church have a religious duty to support Israel and end anti-Semitism.

"At first, they didn't understand what I was talking about," Radyshevsky said. "Our point is that a true Orthodox Christian cannot be anti-Semitic," Middle East Newsline reported.

"So, the union between Russia and Israel cannot be just that to fight terrorism. The church cannot be anti-Zionist either. Zionism is written in all the scriptures."

The approach is similar to that used by pro-Israeli conservatives with the Christian right in the 1980s. Radyshevsky, a Russian native, is a former divinity student at Harvard University and has lived many years in the United States. As he sees it, the church in Russia has the clout that can change both the government and public opinion to turn Israel into Moscow's strategic ally.

Radyshevsky believes that the best way to achieve an Israeli-Russian alliance is from outside the government. Last month, the Chernoy Foundation convened a gathering in Moscow that sought to widen the dialogue between Israel and Russia. Officials, former diplomats and clerics discussed a thesis that the world has been divided into two spheres Babylon and Jerusalem.

A book published in English and Russian by the foundation, termed "Babylon or Jerusalem," argues that every major evil that threatened civilization over the last century first targeted the Jews. This began with fascism, then communism and now Islamic fundamentalism. The message presented to the Russian elite is that each country must decide whether it sides with Babylon or Jerusalem.

Father Joseph, a senior monk in the Orthodox Church, agrees with the premise. He said Moscow must demand that Islamic clerics be held responsible for the terrorism committed in the name of their religion.

"Islamic clerics must prove that they have nothing to do with terrorism," Joseph said. "So far, they have failed."

Israel and Russia restored diplomatic relations more than a decade ago, but officials from both countries acknowledge that Israel and Russia have failed to exploit the potential of cooperation in defense and security as well as joint ventures and industry. Israeli investors have largely stayed away from Russia because of endless bureaucratic red tape and the high risk of doing business in that country.

Knesset member Yuri Shtern, a Russian native who led several delegations to Moscow, said Moscow and Jerusalem have several times attempted to launch a strategic dialogue to begin defense and security cooperation. He said the efforts failed mostly because of a lack of agreement on such basic concepts as threat assessments, strategic interests and the benefits of Israeli-Russian cooperation.

"There should be a change in Russia's perception of Israel," Shtern, who flew to Moscow, for the gathering, said. "Israel is a spiritual Stalingrad and if the Palestinians move ahead then Russia is at risk. The pilgrims to the Holy Land have been Russians. Westerners haven't come to Israel. The Russian elite did."

Russian strategists and officials agreed. They said Israel's relations with the United States as well as the Palestinian war has frustrated efforts to convert ties between Jerusalem and Moscow into a strategic alliance.

"Israel is in a difficult position at the moment because it is at war," former Russian ambassador to Israel Alexander Bovin said. "Israel is focused in fighting the Palestinians. That's why less stress is being placed on economics and culture. That's why it would be better to develop economic projects in water and energy."

Outside of the government framework, Israelis and Russians engage in an array of contacts. The foundation's gathering was packed with Russian journalists, former diplomats and officials. Later, scores of visiting Israelis attended the opening of a conference of the Moscow-based New Economic School, founded a decade ago by, among others, Israeli economist Gur Ofer.

In addition, Israeli and Russian experts have been discussing grandiose infrastructure and water projects. One of them would divert the flow of the Don River to the Volga in an effort to develop the Russian steppes.

The foundation has been promoting several steps raised in its book, composed of a series of essays from such people as former Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Jan Willem van der Hoeven, founder of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. The steps envision an Israeli-Russian partnership to save the Christian community in the Palestinian Authority. The creation of a Palestinian state under Yasser Arafat's rule, the foundation has argued, would endanger both Christians and Jews.

"We cannot believe in the Bible and its promise of Israel's rebirth as a key to the messianic era," Radyshevsky said, "and at the same time supporting creating a state for Arafat who claims openly that Palestinian sovereignty is a mere springboard for destroying Israel."

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