Antisemitism in Russia, the US: Fury, fear and hope

The old “Blame-the-Jew” Russian and European syndrome may be paralleled in the US as national dissonance grows in both. And I am afraid.

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses a news conference after his meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow on April 26. (photo credit: MAXIM SHIPENKOV/REUTERS)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses a news conference after his meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow on April 26.
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

This is not the column I wanted to write. But the fury and the fear are just too great.

The Soviet – oops – the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said, “Hitler, I believe, had Jewish blood... some of the worst antisemites were Jews.” Tovaritch (Comrade, the way people addressed one another under Soviet rule) – oops – Gospodin (Mr.) Lavrov, welcome to the fold. You defined yourself perfectly: “some of the worst antisemites were Jews.” Therefore you must be a Jew. In that case you might even be allowed to seek refuge here.

When Lavrov’s ugly remark was published, I, like most of us, was furious. Could the Russian foreign minister not be aware of the gravity of what he said? After the fury came the historic memory, the shock and the fear. Russian policy today emulates that of the czars. What did the czar of Russia do when there was malaise in the body politic? Foster antisemitism. The czars unleashed their police and/or the ultra-nationalist Black Hundreds who murdered and plundered Jews in an orgy of pogroms.

Here I sincerely feared that this was the first signal sent up to unleash the endemic demon of Russian Jew-hatred. If Lavrov hunkers down on his statement, the signal must emanate from above. From President Putin. Or, another possibility – the Russian leadership, which may be splintering because of the war or because of Putin’s health, is preparing an antisemitic wave to cover the coming dissension.

Whatever the case – and only time will tell – our foreign minister, Yair Lapid, rightly lashed back at Lavrov’s words. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman then fired back that Israel is supporting “neo-Nazis” in the Ukraine. Hunkering down.

 White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (credit: CAMERON SMITH/WHITE HOUSE) White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (credit: CAMERON SMITH/WHITE HOUSE)

This all happened in a three-day period in early May. As I write, I admit to only the faintest hope that the matter will rest here. My historic memory and Jewish seismograph tell me differently.

Since I wrote that sentence, the Israeli press cites Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s statement that Putin – in a phone call to wish Israel well on its 74th Independence Day – apologized to him for Lavrov’s “Hitler remark.” The statement issued by Putin’s office did not mention any apology. I believe that Putin did make some statement that seemed like an apology. Prime Minister Bennett has been signally truthful since occupying his high rank. But did Putin call Lavrov to order privately? And if so, why not the usual leaks?

Until we hear loud and clear from the united Russian leadership that antisemitism will not be permitted in the Federation, I must, unfortunately, heed my Jewish seismograph. That same seismograph moved over 6,000 Jews from the Russian Federation and from its satellite Belarus to rush to Israel since the outbreak of Putin’s war to receive Israeli citizenship. They know that when there is trouble, the Jews will always be to blame.

In my last column I wrote that Jew-hatred is endemic in Eastern Europe. In Russia, it has been kept under wraps. Under Stalin, the moment he did not need the Jews to help manipulate public opinion in the West, he murdered the heads of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Then he created a false Doctor’s Plot, according to which doctors (almost all Jewish) were accused of planning to poison the top Soviet leadership. That was to have been followed by a “voluntary transfer” of Soviet Jews to a Jewish Siberian enclave centered in the Jewish Soviet region of Yiddish-speaking Birobidzhan. Stalin’s death put an end to that.

The antisemitism endemic to Russia is also nurtured by the priests of the great and flourishing Orthodox Church, just as it is fostered in Poland by Roman Catholic priests, prelates and the prevalent Radio Maria. I fear a major shock wave across Europe. After the first flush of sympathy for the millions of Ukrainian refugees entering Central and Western Europe, the economic burden and the competition for jobs may very well create a backlash. Who is responsible for the War? Blame the Jew!

This bleak bitterness (a translation from the Hebrew marah shehorah) is not at all alleviated when viewing the United States today. The land of the free and the home of the brave is struggling to stay free, as a reactionary Supreme Court considers positively overturning Roe v. Wade, and outlawing abortion. This effectively draws public attention from the other major national issues.

The billions of dollars the US is printing and spending on keeping the Ukrainians fighting by providing weapons add to a national debt estimated as well over $30 trillion (whatever that is!!). More than 40% of American voters believe Trump won the last election. The Biden administration does not inspire confidence as the US president misspeaks often and must be reeled back by his “explainers.”

An aside about his newest “explainer”: The new White House spokeswoman has never retracted her opposition to AIPAC. She comes from the far-left of the Democratic party’s kaleidoscope of colors. Biden is a centrist and stumbles in the world of diplomacy in which she has no experience. It is hard to see what good will come of this promotion he gave to Karine Jean-Piere.

Though the US employment situation shows improvement, the main problem besetting the lower earners is wage stagnation. This means that when calculations of income are made against the increase in the cost of living, the lower earners are just holding their own. They do not advance and some are sliding back. Meanwhile, the gap between the high-income end and the low in America is the highest in the world. (Warning: Israel is just about the same, but we have the excuse of non-working sectors.) It is these low earners that provide the bulk of right-wing voters, in a weird alliance with high-earners who are against paying taxes for big government.

The same odd mixture is creating a volatile phenomenon of evangelical religion and Trumpism. In a recent front-page New York Times report, recurrent instances of far-right political gatherings in the Bible Belt (Protestant) begin with hymns and prayer sessions. The Protestant Bible Belt Trump supporters, including armed militia, exist side by side with a right-wing Catholic majority in the Supreme Court, some appointed by Trump. Hence the probable squelching of the right to abortion.

There seems to be a strange alliance of right-wing Catholic and Protestant voters who may very well sweep the November mid-term Congressional elections. The additional pro-Trump votes from the Jewish Orthodox voters will probably sweep a few Trump supporters into office as well.

The American Civil War between the states (1861-65) is still being fought: the southern states strive to pass laws that would limit black voters, while they gerrymander electoral districts to create white majorities.

I have for decades believed that if the US economy turned sour for the majority, antisemitism would rise. It is against this background, and the prominence of Jews in the upper-income percentiles, that the present increase of Jew-hatred appears.

It has always been background noise in the black communities, going back to the last century: “Jews own the liquor stores and the groceries.” Black poverty, plus white supremacy plus rampant “poor whites” (yes, yesterday’s terminology but it still applies due to wage stagnation), and armed militias all inflame antisemitism more and more. The vocal and growing pro-Palestinian Arab lobby is fanning the flames of Jew-hatred.

In the US, antisemitism and violence against Jews are increasing by leaps and bounds. Beyond the significant increase the Anti-Defamation League reports, New York residents tell me there are many more that go unreported. I also have firsthand reports from the Midwest of bumper stickers featuring the number 88, which is a way of saying, Heil Hitler. (The letter H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.) In the US as well, the Jewish seismograph is beginning to make more and more identified Jews think about emigration to Israel.

And this brings us back, full circle, to Lavrov suggesting Hitler had Jewish blood. The old “Blame-the-Jew” Russian and European syndrome may be paralleled in the US as national dissonance grows in both. And I am afraid.

This fear is compounded by what is engendered in Israel, where national cohesion is strained by the political blocs’ power struggle, and the attention given to local terrorism. That may be keeping both the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz and Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir-Deri alliances from creating policy options for various potential scenarios. These range from a weaker America, our major ally, to a slow diminution of Russian power in Syria, with a concomitant rise in the ambitions and appetite of Iran.

So far we have dealt with the fury fueled by Lavrov, and the fear of dangerous antisemitism in Russia and America. Now the hope.

I hope I am wrong.  ■

Avraham Avi-hai returns to the field of government and political science in which he earned his doctorate.