Friday, October 20, 2006

free to go to synagogues

A Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan tells NY Times readers of the wonders of Kazakhstan and invites Borat to come see his homeland for himself (the link generator doesn’t seem to want to work on this one)

''I'd like to invite Cohen here,'' he said. ''He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues.''

Yes, they are free to go to synagogues. They are also free to be targeted for persecution by their fellow Kazakhs if they do. But don’t expect any actual reporting on that issue from the Times.

In an unpublished Board of Immigration Appeals decision, a Kazakh Jew told about being assaulted at a graveyard for being Jewish, and was awarded asylum in this country because the Board determined she had a well-founded fear persecution on the basis of her religion if she was returned to her country. Reports of skinhead groups assaulting Jews are generally ignored by the press, which is tightly managed by the government.

The US State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 had this to say:
There were no reports of incidents of anti-Semitism by the Government. In August 2004, the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, addressing an international religious conference in Brussels, stated that in 10 years in the country he had never faced a single case of anti-Semitism. He praised the Government of Kazakhstan for its pro-active protection of the Jewish community.

On its face, the Rabbi’s statement is ridiculous. I doubt many rabbis in the U.S. have “never faced a single case of anti-Semitism” in the past 10 years. A more convincing explanation I heard recently is that the Chief Rabbi wants to maintain his ties to President Nazarbayev’s family, and knows that nothing happens in the country without Nazarbayev’s clan’s approval. Things would be much worse for him if he didn’t praise the government’s pro-Jewish efforts. The U.S. government, or even the NY Times, could find this out if it wanted to. But Kazakhstan has lots of oil and gas, with much more scheduled to come online in the next decade, and is a strategic ally of the U.S. in the war on terror. So don’t expect too critical an eye on Kazakhstan from the State Department.

Borat must be proud.

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