Voices from Russia

Monday, 12 March 2018

No, Putin Is Not an Anti-Semite

Putin at a Jewish function in Moscow

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Editor:

This piece is snarkily Russophobic and rather anti-Putin, but the author has to admit:

V V Putin is probably not an anti-Semite.

That means that he’s more honest than most… we must encourage honesty wherever we find it. Much of the rest is rubbishy Russophobia, but the main point stands clear. That makes this a good read and it makes nonsense out of the anti-Semitic filth coming out of Russian Insider and Russian Faith (our bishops should condemn Damick et al for their collaboration with known anti-Semites), along with the snarky anti-Semitism purveyed by the likes of “the Saker”.

By the way, Putin has facility in English, but he has a heavy accent, which he knows the Anglo toddlers would use to make him look stupid. Therefore, he always uses an interpreter to speak for him to forestall this. That’s wisdom, even in small matters.

BMD

In an interview with NBC in Moscow that aired on 9 March, Megyn Kelly asked President V V Putin about the 13 Russian nationals indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election with a covert social media campaign. Through a translator, Putin responded:

Maybe they’re not even Russians. Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. We need to check that. Maybe they have dual citizenship… or maybe a green card. Maybe the Americans paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.

The reaction from US and Israeli media outlets was immediate and angry, headlines focusing on one word… Jews. Slate went with Putin: Maybe It Was the Jews Who Meddled in US Presidential ElectionNew York magazine with Putin Says Jews Might Be To Blame for 2016 Election Hacking, and The Jerusalem Post with Putin: Jews Might Have Been Behind US Election Interference, as a representative sample. The American Jewish Committee called Putin’s remarks:

They’re eerily reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League also drew this parallel. Democratic lawmakers also condemned the remarks. US Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut tweeted:

Repulsive Putin remark deserves to be denounced, soundly and promptly, by world leaders. Why is Trump silent? Intolerance is intolerable.

This reaction, while understandable, fundamentally misrepresents both what Putin said and the cultural context in which he said it. This isn’t to defend Putin for his smug and condescending tone throughout the interview, his palpably dishonest statements regarding whether the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election, or his unhelpful injection of ethnicity into the debate. Nonetheless, it’s important to be accurate about what Putin most likely meant and whether it represents a deeper animus toward Jews. Anti-Semitism in Russia is a real problem, but the panicked responses to Putin’s offhand comments miss the mark.

To some extent, this was a problem of translation. There are two words for “Russian” in Russian… rossiiskii, referring to any citizen of the Russian Federation, and russkii, which refers to a specific “nationality” (in the former USSR, this means something closer to “ethnicity”), ethnic Russians, who comprise 77.7 percent of the total population, according to the 2010 census. In total, more than 200 nationalities in Russia have had official recognition since the Soviet period. Most of these are quite small in number and many are associated with specific nominally autonomous republics within Russia, such as Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Chechnya. All of them are rossiiskii, but only the ethnic Russian majority is russkii. The term Putin used in his conversation with Kelly was russkii, presumably translated to him via headset, which accounts for why he might have differentiated between ethnic Russians and other ethnic groups within Russia. However, why did he single out Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews, in that order? Most likely, as Tatars are the second largest ethnicity after Russians (3.7 percent of the population) and Ukrainians are the third largest (1.4 percent). As for Jews… it’s complicated.

Under the Tsarist rule, the Russian state was de jure anti-Semitic, with the Orthodox Church used to justify the confinement of Jews to the Pale of Settlement and the infamous pogroms. However, when the Bolsheviks, many of whom, such as L D Trotsky, were of Jewish background, seized power in 1917, they passed laws banning anti-Semitism, permitted mass migration of Jews into major cities like Moscow and Leningrad, and legally recognised Jews as a nationality with equal rights as citizens. The official term they (and Putin) used, yevrei, means “Hebrew” and is the standard inoffensive word for Jew in Russian. It denotes an ethnicity, not a religion, which would be iudei (“Judaic”), a useful distinction not easily captured in English. Despite achieving formal equality, Jews still endured prejudice and, like all other ethnic groups, the suppression of their religion throughout the Soviet period. Many sought to emigrate.

After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, many Jews left for Israel, the USA, Europe, and elsewhere, and the Jews who remained were split amongst 15 newly independent republics, with by far the largest number in Russia. In 1997, Russia announced it’d no longer recognise nationality on internal passports. It removed the infamous “fifth point” that designated every citizen’s nationality, including “Jew”. In the same year, Russia officially recognised four religions… Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, though it’s important to note that many ethnic Jews in post-Soviet Russia are nonreligious. As a result, since 1997, Jews can and do live in Russia without being legally identified as Jews either by nationality or religion. This makes it hard to estimate how many Jews live in Russia today, but the answer is likely in the hundreds of thousands and includes a significant number of prominent people in business, politics, and the arts. Moreover, quite a few are close to Putin.

Putin, who has effectively ruled Russia since 2000, isn’t known for anti-Semitism. At various points, he instrumentalised xenophobia against ethnic minorities, in particular from the Caucasus, as well as homophobia, and he’s notoriously politically incorrect in his public statements. Still, he’s never targeted Jews. On the contrary, Putin counts many Jews among his circle of wealthy friends, has a warm relationship with the controversial Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Berel Lazar, and gets along famously with Israeli officials like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He’s always spoken of Jews in positive terms, and as his respected biographers Fiona Hill and Clifford Gady noted, he had close relationships with Jews dating back to his early childhood in Leningrad.

None of this means that Putin is entirely innocent when it comes to anti-Semitism, which is still widespread in Russia. In the process of consolidating his power, he did target a number of oligarchs with known Jewish ancestry, such as M B Khodorkovsky and B A Berezovsky, but he didn’t single them out for Jewishness, many other ethnically Jewish oligarchs, such as R A Abramovich and V F Vekselberg, thrived under Putin. Putin also oversaw covert support for far-right anti-Semitic political parties in various countries, including, one could argue, the USA. However, we should understand this as a strategy for destabilising those countries and not as serving an ideologically anti-Semitic agenda. Meanwhile, he’s consistently pursued closer relations with Israel and made many warm gestures to the Russian Jewish community.

Putin’s remarks to Kelly were awkward at the very least. However, we should understand them as dissembling or trolling, which, unlike anti-Semitism, the Russian president is well-known for. He was being insincere and deliberately dense, refusing to engage on the question of whether the Kremlin is responsible for the Internet Research Agency’s alleged cyberattacks against the USA. Raising the possibility that the perpetrators might be ethnically Jewish or Tatar or Ukrainian rather than Russian is immaterial to the question of whether they had Kremlin support, which is exactly why Putin said it… to demonstrate how little interest he had in answering Kelly’s questions seriously. Nevertheless, he didn’t single out Jews, and unless this is the start of a disturbing new trend, there’s no evidence that he intended to dog-whistle to anti-Semites. There are many good reasons to be concerned about Putin, but his feelings toward Jews are most likely not among them.

11 March 2018

David Klion

Forward         

https://forward.com/opinion/396337/no-putin-is-not-an-anti-semite/

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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

11 October 2016. Yom Kippur Begins at Sundown Tonight

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Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish Year, begins tonight at sundown. If your Jewish friends need a hand today… give it! Run an errand, watch the kids, walk the dog… whatever that they might need on this hectic day for them. It’s what decent people do… tomorrow, give ’em the space to honour their day of repentance. That’s the best gift that you can give them.

BMD

Sunday, 2 October 2016

2 October 2016. It’s Rosh Hashanah… The Start of the High Holy Days

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Today is the start of Rosh Hashanah (commonly called “Jewish New Year”)… the beginning of the High Holy Days that end with Yom Kippur (that’s 11/12 October this year). Except for Pesach (Passover), this is the holiest time of the Jewish liturgical year… Chanukah doesn’t even come close. If your Jewish friends or coworkers need a hand during this period, give it to them! It’s a hectic time of year for them. Do whatever good that you can do for them with a good heart, expecting nothing in return (“Yes, I WILL have some of the honey cake and Carmel wine… thank you, very much!”). We’re Christians; that’s what we do.

One last thing… remember the words of a humble Greek country pappas during the German occupation in World War II… “Our Lord Christ lived and died a believing Jew”. We should have the same attitude. Respect others and their faiths… full stop. That IS our duty as Christians. If we fail to honour that, we’re no Christians, and I’m not afraid to say so. I confide that I’m not alone in thinking that way…

BMD

Friday, 22 April 2016

22 April 2016. It’s Past Sundown… The Jewish Passover is On!

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The sun is down, so the Jewish Passover has begun, running until sundown 30 April. This is, perhaps, the defining festival for all Jews in all climes and all times. The Seder is the Table of Freedom for all Jews… it symbolises their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Many Jews take this theme of liberation and extend it to the general society. Look at Saul Solomon, a politician in 19th century Cape Colony, who stated, “[I] give my decided opposition to all legislation tending to introduce distinctions either of class, colour, or creed”. We also see this thirst for justice in Bernie Sanders, who despite being non-observant, is still a proud Jew. Friends have told me that Passover for them is the Festival of Freedom, not just for Jews, but for all people. Remember this… as a lowly Greek country pappas said during World War II during the fascist occupation of Greece, “Our Lord Christ lived and died a believing Jew”. Antisemitism amongst Christians is self-hatred and oxymoronic… do ponder that…

BMD

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