Antisemitism has no place in Georgian politics

Through the generations, Jews have been subjected to oppression, murder and cruelty in an effort to eradicate them. And for generations, Georgia has faced similar aggression from Russia.

georgia crowd224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
georgia crowd224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The race for Georgian president has taken an even nastier turn. In the past few months, some candidates — originally there were 25, now there are just two — have been slinging mud and attempting to discredit their opponents through slander. With just two candidates left, most of these attacks seem to come from candidate Grigol Vashadze, a former Soviet Union official, who has been attempting to deflect attention from his alleged KGB ties, by accusing opponent Salome Zurabishvili of Russian sympathies.
Now, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — whose Georgian citizenship was stripped following to his decision to accept Citizenship of Ukraine and now residing in the Netherlands — has targeted Zurabishvili and her campaign using gross anti-Semitism. Vashadze is candidate from saakashvili’s UNM party, so it was unsurprising when he criticized Zurabishvili. The surprise was that he chose to cater to the lowest denominator and echo centuries-old anti-Semitic sentiments to discuss politics in a country that is known in Israel for its tolerance and warm relationship with the Jewish people and Israel.
Saakashvili has accused Zurabishvili’s campaign of taking funds from “Moshe the Jewish crook” and called a PR specialist from Israel, with whom Zurabishvili worked during the pre-election period, a “brainwasher and a trickster Jew.”
After these egregious statements, which are clearly meant to foster nothing but hatred, Vashadze has remained silent about his top supporter. In fact, Vashadze has promised that if elected he will reinstate Saakashvili’s citizenship.
Thankfully, Zurabishvili does not stand quietly while people are attacked for their religion, ethnicity, gender or any other defining characteristic.
“This statement is unequivocally anti-Semitic,” Zurabishvili said in a response to Saakashvili’s attack. “Anti-Semitism in all its forms should be condemned and never be tolerated in Georgia. They are absolutely unacceptable coming from the former president of this country.
“Anti-Semitism has never been a feature of Georgian politics and should never become so,” she continued. “Georgia is a country where Georgians of Jewish faith have lived side by side with fellow Georgians of all faiths and have been allowed to worship free of hate, discrimination and pressure.”
“This attack is disgraceful for its hate-mongering tone as it draws on centuries of misplaced xenophobia” — said Lasha Zhvania well respected Georgian diplomat and politician.
Zhvania, well known for his strong support to Israel and world Jewry, closely cooperates with AJC, Conference of the presidents and other Jewish American Organizations, is supportive of  Zurabishvili’s campaign, first visited Israel in 1988. Since then, he has returned to Israel nearly every year, eventually taking the post as Georgian ambassador to Israel in 2005, before leaving three years later to serve in Georgia’s Parliament and Minister of Economic Development.
“I chose to go to Israel because I felt that I should serve in a country that I’m familiar with and am fond of,” Zhvania, who is fluent in Hebrew, said in a 2005 interview. “I’m very connected to Jerusalem.”
For Zurabishvili, having Zhvania as a friend and ally is vital to her campaign — because of his wealth of experience as a foreign diplomat and member of Georgia’s Parliament. Also, Zhvania is a bridge between two cultures that have both suffered strongly from outside influences.
Through the generations, Jews have been subjected to oppression, murder and cruelty in an effort to eradicate them. And for generations, Georgia has faced similar aggression from Russia. As a Soviet satellite, Georgia was forced to comply and throw out everything that made her people Georgian. Now that the Soviet Union has fallen, despite continued pressure and occupation from Russia, Georgia holds fast to its past and its culture.
Zhvania has said that, due to these similarities, he sees Israel and her people as a strong role model for Georgia, a symbol of perseverance and identity. Key among Zurabishvili’s platform points are preservation of Georgian culture, incorporation of Western values, equality for all Georgians, personal freedoms, and becoming a member nation of both the European Union and NATO.
“I consider those statements to be an insult to Georgia and to Georgian values,” Zurabishvili said about Saakashvili’s comments. “As a presidential candidate, I take pride in Georgia’s tradition of tolerance and its culture of openness. As the future president of this country, I intend to uphold those values and take all necessary steps against anti Semitism, hate speech and all forms of religious or ethnic discrimination.
“A country aspiring to become a member of the European Union should be steadfast in this commitment.”
The author is a pro-Israel activist and writes frequently about Israel and Jewish culture.