MOSCOW - The Jewish community of Russia is worried over a rumor campaign by nationalist parties claiming that Dmitri Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, is Jewish.The concern here is that such "accusations" will arouse centuries-old anti-Semitism in the former czarist state. Russia is, after all, the birthplace of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
Russian Jewish leaders declined to comment on the rumors officially, fearing to lend them credibility. Off the record, however, one said: "I pray it isn't true, because it would only make trouble, for him and for us."
Medvedev, who recently told a Russian weekly that he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church at age 23, has not commented on these rumors. But Russian Internet sites are full of reports about his alleged Jewish roots.
The rumors are based in part on the fact that his maternal grandfather's first name was Veniamin - similar to the Hebrew Binyamin (Benjamin) - while his family name, Shaposhnikov, is sometimes a Jewish name. But beyond that, accusing an electoral rival of being Jewish is a tactic that nationalist parties have employed in the past, both in Russia and in other former communist countries.