Is President Vladimir Putin a fascist, a neo-Nazi or is he simply misunderstood and bad-mouthed by the West? The West needs to answer these questions to successfully help Ukraine defend against Russia’s aggression. The Jews and the leadership of Israel, in particular, must not run away from these questions. They need to realize that “the great evil” does not always come for the Jews.
The world may not have learned the lessons from the Holocaust yet the Jews should have. If the moral clarity of who is right, who is wrong and what Putin stands for is not within reach to the nation that was almost completely wiped out by Hitler and the Nazi state less than 80 years ago, then the Jews lost their moral prerogative of the ultimate victims and have become accomplices themselves.
Putin started this war claiming the Nazis took over the government in Kyiv, the modern Ukrainian state is a Nazi state, the Ukrainians are not a nation and Ukraine is a province of Russia with its own dialect. It takes a special kind – the Russian kind – of ironic devilishness to claim the government where the president and many ministers have Jewish roots is Nazi. Nor can it be fascist by any acceptable definition of that political movement unless one adopts the one liked by the Kremlin, which declares anyone not agreeing with Russian designs is a fascist.
But does all of that really matter? The Jewish Diaspora and Israel seem to be very much into these academic discussions of who is a fascist and who is a Nazi. And the logic behind this interest is as simple as it is wrong and completely misguided.
It goes like the following. We are only up against absolute evil if the evil we are facing is Nazi-like. What is the Nazi-like evil? It is the one set to destroy all Jews. Why did the US, USSR and the rest of the allies fight Nazi Germany with all their might during the Second World War? They did because the Nazis were burning the Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Yet there is a large historical problem with that narrative. The allies did not fight the Nazis to save the Jews. The war did not start to save the Jews. It started to defend Poland. The US and Soviet Union did not care much for the Jews, if at all. The Roosevelt administration refused to admit any refugees, sent many of the ones reaching its shores back and refused to bomb railway tracks leading to Auschwitz or talk at all about the ongoing Holocaust until the last days of the war. The reason was very simple: no pretext must be given to the German propaganda that the war was about Jews. And thus it was not. And if it went on for a little longer or had some other turns and twists in its early days no European Jew would see the dawn of the victory day.
Unprovoked aggression and indiscriminate killing
ALMOST EVERYONE fighting the Nazis were fighting the unprovoked aggression, indiscriminate killings and mass murder. What escapes too many in the Jewish world is that the six years of World War II would not change at all had the Nazis decided to leave Jews alone. Not a single day of the conduct of the bloodiest war in human history would change. Thus, it is really irrelevant if Putin is friendly or hostile to Jews. In Ukraine, he is doing exactly what Hitler was doing in Poland, back in 1939.
Yet the question of Putin’s perceived or lack of antisemitism is at the center of the discussion as if it is the only hatred that makes the evil absolute. Only half a year into the war and already many useful idiots have traveled to Russia and come back to declare no evil to be found: the Jews live in peace. These people are like the intellectuals of the 1930s, who traveled to meet Stalin and found peace and tranquility in the socialist paradise.
They willingly serve the propaganda purposes of the most murderous European regime since the fall of the Soviet Union. For these people and many folks currently leading Israel, antisemitism is evil’s only litmus test. In their view, if the scourge of antisemitism is not found or found in tolerable amounts, the evil is not that dangerous.
The Kremlin is keeping the Jews attentive with his threats to close the local offices of the Jewish Agency but is leaving them alone, for now. That makes Putin a kosher tyrant in the eyes of many. Russia’s military presence provides another excuse to Israeli politicians to do nothing to help Ukraine. Yet even Turkey, finding itself in a position not too dissimilar, acts differently. Israel is afraid to even think of sending military aid to Ukraine, making Germany a champion of Ukraine’s resistance in comparison. What an irony.
Israel, sadly, is behaving in exactly the same way as the Jews of the exile did toward the evil rulers of the time. Zionism’s goal was to stop the Jews crawling on their knees in front of the Amaleks of this world. It takes more than a religious faith to separate the light from the darkness. It takes more than a state to shine light upon the rest of the world.
The writer lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. He is a founding member of San Francisco Voice for Israel.