Many of my liberal friends in Russia responded by assuring me that Putin is not an anti-Semite. There have even been rumors that he’s at least partially Jewish himself, as well as speculation that he is, perhaps, mindful of the fate of other rulers throughout history who tangled with the Jews - including, most recently, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Be that as it may, the ugly official anti-Semitism - with its quotas on college admissions, glass ceilings ruining careers and endless attacks on Zionism in the media - has indeed disappeared since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s Jewish population - which is officially estimated at less than 200,000 but in reality is at least twice as large - is divided, reflecting irreconcilable divisions within Russian society as a whole.
Jews are prominent both in opposition circles and among Putin supporters - starting with elderly crooner Iosif Kobzon, a senior member of the State Duma. Even chief Russian anti-Semite Vladimir Zhirinovsky has a Jewish father.
A video recently made rounds on the Internet, an excerpt from the infamous propaganda television show run by Vladimir Solovyov. It shows Evgeny Satanovsky, who once headed the Russian Jewish Congress and now runs the Institute for Middle East Studies in Moscow, debating Michael Bohm, a Russian-speaking American journalist who formerly edited the opinion page of the Moscow Times.
“Debating” is actually a wrong word for what was a long harangue in which Satanovsky talks about bombing the United States, stating, literally the following:
“Yes, we’ve got used to going to Europe, drinking Czech beer and visiting German museums, and I personally like the Berlin Zoo. All in all,if we have to storm or bomb it all, it will be a pity. Before we started goingthere, we had no attachment to those places, whereas now - … As far as I’m concerned, the United States and NATO as a whole are a new Third Reich. …Apparently, the way to safeguard peace in Europe is to make sure that the next great war over Ukraine rolls westward and not eastward, and to understand how, if the United States crosses certain red lines - and the leaders of the United States should know what those red lines are - the U.S, Air Force, Navy and ground personnel will be destroyed in such regions and in such numbers that will keep America from crossing those lines. You leave us no other choice.”
While mouthing this jingoistic nonsense, Satanovsky looks plenty scared. He knows that, living up to his last name, he’s doing a passable Joseph Goebbels imitation and clearly fears that, once Putin is gone or the situation in Russia changes in some other way, all this may come to haunt him. In fact, even the supremely cynical Vladimir Solovyov - who is also apparently Jewish - has to remind him that a war between Russia and the United States will destroy the world. But, even looking scared, Satanovsky nevertheless goes on - he wants to be a good patriot of Putin’s Russia.
Well, perhaps he has figured it out correctly. Since the annexation of Crimea, territorial patriotism - the belief that we all,regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation belong to the same nation - has spread in Ukraine, where many Russians, Jews, Crimean Tatars, Gagauz Turks and Hungarians have started to realize that they’re all part of one country. Asimilar thing has happened in Russia. At least the hatred of Chechens has moderated and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has suddenly become the darling of Russian nationalists. Perhaps Jews, too, at long last could be accepted as true Russians.
Well, I don’t think so. The ultra-nationalist supporters of Novorossiya are yet to tamper down their rabid anti-Semitism. But those are still fringe elements even in today’s Russia. There are other reasons why Jewsshould be worried.
Russia is run by KGB officers who learned their trade in the age of Yuri Andropov. This includes Putin’s close friends, top-level government officials, oligarchs heading state-owned companies and top brass in the Russian Orthodox Church. They were weaned on the struggle against dissidents, Crimean Tatars and Jews who were demanding the right to emigrate to Israel. Look howreadily they returned to persecuting Crimean Tatars since Crimea was annexed, and how they absolutely hate the last surviving dissidents from the 1970s whom they used to pack into labor camps and psychiatric institutions in the days of their youth.
Second, Russia is suddenly poor once more. After many in the country have developed a taste for luxuries such as, to use Satanovsky’s examples, Czech beer and German museums, there will be a need to explain why itis all gone. Who stole several trillion dollars Russia earned in the first 15 years of this century? Why are we back where we started from in the miserable 1990s?
For centuries, Jews have been a very convenient scapegoat for all such problems. Obviously, Jewish oligarchs were the ones who stole Russian oil and gas.
Finally, given the kind of society Russia is now building, Jews by their very nature are going to be an alien and subversive element. Jews were the first group in history who wanted to assimilate into homogenous European society on their own terms, while preserving their distinct identity and religious beliefs. It turned out to be the first step toward liberalism, multiculturalism, tolerance and open-mindedness - all those modern trends that Russian leaders so ardently despise
Jews present a slightly different point of view - simply because they are different. This position - simultaneously as insiders and outsiders - makes the Jewish culture in every country they inhabit sarcastic and skeptical. Jews therefore are the natural enemies of any society that strives for uniformity and takes itselfdeadly seriously. It is not a surprise, then, that Hitler, as he worked to turn back the clock on modernity and refashion Germany along tribal lines, directed his hatred against the Jews. And Stalin, too, a few short years after defeating Hitler, turned on the Jews as he tried to complete the regimentation of Soviet society.
If some Russian Jews believe that their loyalty will save them, they should remember that German Jews were highly patriotic until the advent of Hitler. They enthusiastically fought in World War I in the Kaiser’s uniform; even today, in German war cemeteries in eastern France you can spot Jewish stars among the crosses. And of course there were plenty of Jews in the Communist Party in the late 1940s, most of them faithful Stalinists. None of that made any difference.