Global leader in Jew-hate
compatriots’ often zealous cooperation with Nazi occupiers.
Racism never consists of isolated acts. It is a glass wall that cracks only when it is publicly named. The socalled “internationalist” Soviet “antiracism” strategy, however, was to proclaim discrimination a Western phenomenon. One “couldn’t find it” under socialism — not least, of course, because of the mandatory silences surrounding it.
Several states liberated from Soviet rule continue to witness frightening antisemitism. Poland or Hungary certainly maintain commemorative sites unthinkable under Soviet rule. Beyond those tourist outposts, however, the ghost of enforced ignorance looms large.
Even tiptoeing around the theme risks the label of national traitor: “Why are you smearing us? Why talk only about Jews? We’ve suffered too!” That “we” entrenches the age-old suspicion that Polish Jews were never “real” Poles, Hungarian Jews never “real” Hungarians, Russian Jews never “real” Russians.
The former Romanian Securitate official Ion Pacepa documents how the KGB spotted Muslims’ anti-Israel animus as a golden opportunity. The Kremlin viewed Muslims as ignorant and malleable — a spectacular Orientalising, which the most ardent of our self-appointed anti-Orientalists today studiously ignore.
The Secret Police chief and later Secretary General Yuri Andropov undertook a programme of spreading antisemitic propaganda throughout Muslim populations. Suddenly the Protocols were newly minted in Arabic (its terms translated verbatim into the 1988 Hamas Charter), and later displayed for sale as far away as the main airport in Malaysia.
In Andropov’s view: We needed to instil a Nazi-style hatred for the Jews throughout the Islamic world, and to turn this weapon of the emotions into a terrorist bloodbath against Israel.
The Protocols still widely circulate in Muslim countries with no concerted objections from supposed anti-racists who assure us they care about antisemitism. (Critics who shout about Zionist “imperialism” and “cultural genocide” rarely speak of the far more massive destruction, throughout centuries, of prior cultures wrought by the spread of Russian power and of Islam. Indeed they often praise those.)
Of course, some Nazi contributions kick in there as well. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had eagerly sought anti-Jewish cooperation with Nazis. Once again, however, it was Soviets who subsequently moved in to fuel that hatred within the wider Muslim world.
With public discourse about antisemitism all but extinguished under the Soviet machine, which then tried its hand at Muslim antisemitism, a third, easily receptive target was Western leftist and post-colonial circles in Western Europe, North and Latin America, and parts of Africa, with eager exponents in academia.
After decades, one can still scour scholarship critical of Israel, steeped in thousands of pages of self-proclaimed “critical” consciousness of imperialism, with scarcely a word of it examining the obstacles created by a Russian counterweight that had pumped such venom into the Muslim world.
Not as a matter of scholarly fact but as a matter of political ideology, the only academically discussable imperialism today is Western imperialism.
All others either remain consigned to cloistered circles of specialists, or must carry “the West is just as bad” caveats so weighty as to end up wholly sidelining Russia’s role in aggravating the Israel-Palestine conflict.
To this day, there remains a desire to view antisemitism on the left as, at best, purely incidental or, at worst, a lie engineered by Zionists.
Systemic antisemitism overtly promoted by the governments of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, for example, has never met with serious leftist condemnation.
Today, Vladimir Putin’s hot-andcold approach serves more to carry forward Russia’s old imperial strategising than to alter it.
Plug terms like “racism”, “discrimination”, or “antisemitism” into Russia Today or Sputnik International search engines. As in Soviet times, you will find avid reporting on the West, without a single mention of Russia’s own parlous history.
A global age has bolstered global antisemitism. Russia is by no means its sole broker — its agents are multiple. If we have to rank them, however, the Russian state took a clear lead a long time ago. Until the Russian media and public self-critically examine the state’s role in sowing antisemitism, its effects will carry on.
Eric Heize is Professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London. His most recent book is ‘Hate Speech and Democratic Citizenship’ (Oxford University Press, 2016)
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