Did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu just travel to Moscow or did he also
simultaneously go to a latter- day Canossa? Did Bibi obsequiously succumb to an
outside power (in the manner of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV who prostrated
himself before pope Gregory VII in medieval Canossa)?
rushed off to Moscow to plead with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin not to
sell Syria advanced rocketry. Previous Israeli and American entreaties failed to
dissuade Russia from pressing ahead with the deal or, earlier, from the startup
of Iran’s only nuclear plant.
With the Cold War behind us, we might
expect a cooperative rather than an audaciously obstructionist Russia. What we
witness, however, is too déjà vu for comfort, too eerily reminiscent of the
Instead of moving forward as a genuine democracy, we find
Moscow donning democracy’s trappings while performing old-time realpolitik
stunts. It’s not an outright foe but never quite a friend, and very obviously
determined to stake its claim, by any means, to superpower status.
almost as if Russia relishes being unpredictable and inscrutable. Its duplicity
hardly paints Russia as the neutral force for peace it purports to be and its
undertakings plainly cannot be relied upon.
Israel is justifiably
nervous, which is why Netanyahu opted to intercede at the highest Kremlin
echelons. Significantly, however, the Russians wouldn’t receive him without
Before Netanyahu was at all allowed to land,
Putin insisted that Israel forthwith transfer to Moscow final control of the
Russian Compound’s famed Sergei’s Courtyard (including the once-sumptuous
“Sergei Imperial Guesthouse”).
It’s smack-dab in the very heart of
Jerusalem – in the western part thereof, the one that lies within the Green
Line, the one which ostensibly Israel may be allowed to keep after it
relinquishes all it liberated in its 1967 war of self-defense.
friends like Putin, we need no enemies. He deserves none of the
consideration that might perhaps be extraordinarily extended a bosom buddy
(though genuine allies wouldn’t pursue archaic pretexts for a footing in another
nation’s capital and cradle of its heritage).
Besides, Putin doesn’t
politely request a cordial gesture. Moscow harps on “the return of Russian
property,” declaring that there’s no contesting “the legitimacy of Russian
claims to the St. Sergius Metochion, the building of the Russian church mission
and various other facilities in Jerusalem.”
NETANYAHU, DESPERATE for an
audience with the Muscovite powers-that-be, lost no time and ordered the
overnight eviction from compound premises of the Agriculture Ministry. Indeed,
it was all so sudden that ministry employees had to be sent home on indefinite
Yet that’s the least troublesome consequence (the blow to national
sovereignty notwithstanding). In Kremlin hands, these holdings would de
facto become extraterritorial. What if terrorists were to flee and find refuge
therein? Would IDF troops break into Putin’s toehold in one of the world’s
touchiest geopolitical hot spots?
Russia, siding with our existential foes,
won’t alter its policies, even if sweetened by gifts of prime Jerusalem acreage,
regardless of the symbolism and prestige involved. It won’t set aside entrenched
interests even for foreign relics of yesteryear’s imperialism.
precedent, additionally, might whet other appetites. Russian territorial claims
here aren’t limited to Sergei’s Courtyard. The Greek Orthodox Church owns the
land on which the Knesset and prime minister’s residence stand. If the
Agriculture Ministry can be ejected, why not the Jewish parliament and the head
The entire compound was chartered from the Ottomans by the
Russian Orthodox Church in 1858 to lodge pilgrims. The Sergei Complex, occupying
nine compound acres, was constructed decades afterward by then-president of the
Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, to
accommodate visiting aristocrats.
The Turks classified Sergei’s property
as private and emphatically not Russian state holding. They confiscated
the compound in World War I and the British Mandate requisitioned it again
postwar, while “White” and “Red” Russian churches vied for
Israel purchased most of the compound from the USSR in 1964,
but, being cashed-strapped then, paid $3.5 million in – oranges. The Sergei
Building, church and courtyard weren’t included in the transaction and, until
the Six Day War, served as a KGB spy nook. Ex-KGB hotshot Putin refuses money in
Who was the Sergei whose individual real estate holding Putin
elevates to Russia’s sacred national heirloom?
Grand Duke Sergei – son of Tsar
Alexander II, brother of infamous Tsar Alexander III and uncle to last Tsar
Nicholas II – was an avid practitioner of the recurrent Romanov theme: “Beat the
Jews and save Russia.”
His Jew-revulsion was unrivaled even by his royal
kinfolk’s rabid anti-Semitism.
In 1891 – mere months after Sergei’s
Building went up in Jerusalem – his brother appointed him Moscow’s
governor-general. Sergei’s first decision was to uproot the city’s 30,000 Jews.
Moscow was to be “cleansed” in three phases – the poorest and least-veteran
Jewish inhabitants ousted first and the richest and longest-residing removed
The banishment edict was published on the first day of Passover.
Next night policemen swooped down on Jewish homes, roused entire frightened
families and drove thousands of men, women and children to filthy lockups. Jews
who hid out in dark alleys and cemeteries were rounded up and roughed up. All,
shorn of their possessions, were later driven out like vermin. Many were
tortured. The infirm died in transit. Some were dragged in wooden manacles, like
outlaws, to do hard labor in distant prisons.
installments later, Moscow was rendered virtually judenrein. In Sergei’s Russia,
moreover, Moscow’s deported Jews were the lucky ones. Elsewhere, Sergei’s clan
unleashed gruesome pogroms – painstakingly premeditated as diversionary tactics
to quell internal unrest – in which Jews suffered manifestations of barbaric
butchery eclipsed only by the horrors of the Holocaust.
Thus if Putin
speaks in terms of “national birthright,” why not also Israel? Why not demand
minimal quid pro quo – a central sliver of Russia’s capital for a central sliver
of Israel’s capital?
Why not demand – in return for one ruthless Russian
despot’s property, for which Putin yearns nostalgically – that Putin pay with
what Sergei stole from the Jews he robbed and exiled? Moscow’s Zaryadye
historical district, adjacent to Red Square, was Muscovite Jewry’s hub
(particularly the sizable Glebov Yard, site of the then-Jewish ghetto). Why not
award that area to Israel in return for Sergei’s Courtyard?
Putin would likely
balk and assert that Israel isn’t heir to the Jews Sergei dispossessed, in which
case Netanyahu should have noted that Putin’s Russia isn’t heir to Sergei
(strictly speaking, his closest living relative, Britain’s Prince Philip,
But supplicants at Canossa evince no pride and certainly don’t talk
Claims for a pound of Jewish national flesh, apparently, aren’t
only made by Arabs. We owe slices of our capital to all sorts of latecomers,
conquerors, glory-seekers, clout-hunters and would-be meddlers in our volatile
Irresolute governments, predisposed to cede some parts of
Jerusalem “for peace,” won’t shrink from surrendering other parts “for (improved
diplomatic) palaver” – even bits of Jerusalem’s downtown, where our tenure isn’t
defamed as controversial or precarious.www.sarahhonig.com
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