By Paul Goble
In many countries around the world, outbursts of anti-Semitism in recent weeks are the result of public reactions to the war in the Middle East, Ksenia Poluektova-Krimer says; but in the case of Russia, they are the direct result of Kremlin propaganda not ony about that conflict but about Moscow’s war in Ukraine and its promotion of “traditional” values.
The visiting research fellow at Potsdam’s Center for Contemporary History, says that the Kremlin’s revival of conspiratorial narratives from Soviet times about wars in the Middle East and in Ukraine has led to the rise of expressions of anti-Semitism among Russians who now feel far freer to express such noxious views (ridl.io/ru/rossijskij-antisemitizm-davno-ne-videlis/).
Poluektova-Krimer argues that “with a few exceptions, public expressions of anti-Semitism used to be one such taboo, solidifying Putin’s reputation as someone sympathetic with Jews, even a philosemite. Officially the Kremlin denounced xenophobia and distinguished between the isolationist ethnic nationalism that it condemned and the broader Russian imperial nationalism that has become Putinism’s dominant framework, especially after 2014.”
But, she continues, “today it no longer matters whether Putin harbours anti-Semitic prejudices or not. If he does, that would not have been all that unusual, since he and others from his entourage, from Lavrov, to Chemizov, Patrushev and Cherkesov, hail from Leningrad KGB, which was one of the most viciously anti-Semitic of all the KGB organizations.”
“Putin’s personal convictions are irrelevant,” the research suggests. “What matters instead is what he says and does, since these are signals eagerly awaited by his propagandists and senior officials who spread them further. The very logic of his regime and the forces it has unleashed domestically and globally has made the return of anti-Semitism into political rhetoric inevitable.”
The Kremlin leader increasingly relies on conspiracy theories, and “in a sense, anti-Semitism is the arch-conspiracy narrative that offers a repertoire of interchangeable enemies, all of which can be substituted with the code word ‘Jew’ … The fertile soil of cultural memory of Soviet anti-Semitic and anti-western campaigns does the rest.”
Not surprisingly, fears that there will be a revival of anti-Semitic policies in the wake of this propaganda are spreading among Russia’s Jews and human rights experts, fears that have grown in particular since Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 (levada.ru/cp/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/VOM1-2023.pdf).
Tragically, the longer this war goes on, the more such an outcome will be.