Russian priest deflects accusations of anti-Semitism

FILE In this file photo taken on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, a visitor walks past a photo showing Russia's last Czar Nicholas II with his family at the 1914-1945 Russia history exhibition in Moscow, Russia . Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Russian Orthodox Church bishop is heading the church's panel investigating the circumstances of the 1918 killing of Russian last czar and his family. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of a Russian Orthodox Church panel looking into the 1918 killing of Russia’s last czar and his family says his statement that it is investigating whether it was a ritual murder has no anti-Semitic connotations.

Father Tikhon Shevkunov said Thursday that he was only talking about the “ritual revenge of atheist Bolsheviks” and never implicated the Jews.

Earlier this week, he said many in the church panel are convinced that the killings were “ritual murder.” That drew an angry response from Russia’s largest Jewish group, which denounced the words as a revival of anti-Semitic myths.

Nicholas II and his family were executed by Bolsheviks in 1918. The speculation that they were killed by the Jews for ritual purposes long has been promoted by fringe anti-Semitic groups.

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