Nearly eighteen months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is a “palpable presence of antisemitic overtones” across the country’s political life that builds upon the “fertile ground” of historic “Soviet antisemitic and anti-Western campaigns,” according to a new assessment by a scholar of Russian Jewish history.
In an extensive article published earlier this month by Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ksenia Krimer, a Russian citizen who is now a fellow at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam, a research institute partially funded by the German government, traced the upsurge in antisemitic tropes inside Russia as President Vladimir Putin’s regime arrived on the cusp of open conflict with western nations as a result of the invasion.
Krimer, who obtained her PhD from the Central European University (CEU), argued that Putin’s “philosemitism”, his past expressions of support for both Israel and the Jewish community, was now an irrelevant consideration. In 2022, nearly 33,000 Russian Jews emigrated to Israel, a 400 percent increase on the previous year, according to the Israeli authorities.
“In 2023, it is no longer a question of whether Putin himself harbors antisemitic prejudices or not,” Krimer wrote. “The very logic of his regime and the forces it unleashed nationally and globally made the rise of antisemitism inevitable.”
There is now a “palpable presence of antisemitic overtones in political rhetoric, repressions, and everyday interactions,” Krimer added.
Among several examples she cited was a soldier’s manual published in 2022 with the approval of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to those tasked with carrying it out, the manual claimed that “all power [in Ukraine] is concentrated in the hands of citizens of Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom. They orchestrated the genocide of the native inhabitants…Today, all of us, Russian Orthodox and Muslims, Buddhists and shamanists, are fighting against Ukrainian nationalism and the global Satanism that supports it.”
Krimer observed that the justification provided in the manual reflected a 2019 article by Sergei Glaziev, Putin’s former economic advisor, who stated that US support for the democratic government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is proudly Jewish, was a sign that the US Administration was “working in cahoots with far-right forces in Israel to implement a mass transfer of Israeli Jews” to Ukraine. According to Glaziev’s conspiracy theory, many Israelis, weary of the conflicts in the Middle East, are eager to be resettled “in the south-east of Ukraine, in territories which, according to Glaziev, have been ‘cleansed’ of ethnic Russians by the Kyiv government.”
Krimer also discussed the case of Evgenia Berkovich, a prominent Russian Jewish poet and theater director, and her colleague, the playwright Svetlana Petriychuk. Both women were arrested on May 4 and then imprisoned on charges of “justifying terrorism” with their new play, “Finist, the Brave Falcon”, which tells the stories of Russian women who decided to marry radical Islamists and move to Syria, and is based on real events. Supporters of Berkovich believe that the decision to arrest her was heavily influenced by her activism opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
One of the expert witnesses for the prosecution, Roman Silantiev, the inventor of a pseudo-science known as “destructology”, which purports to examine the social influence of cults, openly invoked the defendants Jewish origins. “This is not the first time I have seen this: Jews actively supporting the Wahhabis (ultraconservative Islamists),” Silantiev said in an interview.
Putin’s regime has also been trying to present “Russophobia” as a prejudice akin to antisemitism, Krimer said. She cited the lyrics of “We Don’t Let Them In,” a song by the popular pro-Kremlin rock band Leningrad, which states: “The Russian is the new ‘yid’/You would like to burn us all in the ovens.”
“In the video that accompanies the song, the dancers are dressed in Russian folk shirts with huge Stars of David sewn on them,” Krimer wrote.