As Ukraine war continues, antisemitism on the rise in Russian media

Well-known Jews have been denounced in Russia’s mainstream media as “foreign agents” and criticism has been leveled at Jewish oligarchs who have left the country since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

There are mounting signs that antisemitism is becoming increasingly tolerated in mainstream Russian media outlets, as President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported Thursday.

Since the invasion began in February, various Russian outlets have selectively criticized Jewish oligarchs who have left the country.

A talk show host with a large following ran down whole list of Jews on one of his programs in July who he believed were not devoted enough to their motherland.

And earlier this month, an article ran in an intellectual Russian newspaper  denounced famous local Jews as “foreign agents.”

Although the offending paragraphs were later dropped from the article, an anonymous former or present employee of the paper, the Moskovskij Komsomolets, told Russian news site Novi Izvestiya that these open expressions of antisemitism represent deep-seated sentiment in a significant portion of the Russian population.

“Russian antisemitism is much older than the Soviet Union. One of the three Russian words that have become an international term, in addition to vodka, is pogrom.”

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According to the JTA, the latest salvo came last week, when the Strategic Culture Foundation, a Russian conservative think tank, used classic antisemitic tropes when slamming French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy for supporting Ukraine.

“This 74-year-old French citizen, born in a family of Algerian Jews, smells blood with his nose and, without delay, flies to lap it up — and for good money,” the article said of the world-famous thinker and writer who had gone to visit the invaded country.”

“The antisemitic rhetoric we’re seeing now, the loosening of the taboo around it, are probably not directed directly by Putin’s government,” Roman Bronfman, a Ukrainian-born émigré  who served in Israel’s legislature from 1996 to 2006 and is currently writing a book on post-Soviet Jewry , told JTA.

“These are matters of a general atmosphere. Officials and the general population are reading between the lines on how they should treat the Jews. And the message is changing.”

The media has even pointed an accusing finger at Chabad of Russia, the Hassidic movement that leads many of the religious and communal initiatives in the country’s Jewish institutions, for seemingly criticizing the war when all other state-backed religious leaders show their support for it.

In the earliest days of the conflict, one of the country’s two chief rabbis, who is from Chabad and considered close to Putin, Rabbi Berel Lazar, called for a cessation of the bloodshed.

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“One of the main postulates of faith in one God is the belief that any conflict can and should be resolved only by peaceful means,” he said. Lazar also offered to mediate between the sides, because “God expects from us that every believer will do everything in his power to save human lives.”

Since then, his ongoing policy has been to keep silent on the issue, not voicing support or opposition to the conflict.

Neither is the media ignoring the case being brought against the Jewish Agency in Russia.

In July, Russian authorities started cracking down on the institution for alleged violations of privacy laws, by supplying information on Russian citizens to its offices in Jerusalem in order to process their emigration applications. The trial is currently in its preliminary stages.

Just over 20,000 Jews have left Russia for Israel in the last seven months, out of a total of 165,000, with tens of thousands more reportedly waiting for  flights out of Russia – rendered scarce due to the sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Israeli officials expect that Putin’s recent announcement that 300,000 additional reserves will be called up due to the war will increase these numbers, as tens of thousands of Russians of all faiths started fleeing the country as soon as the news was released.