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The following article was run by Haaretz on February 25. It is the first installment of Moti Katz investigation of anti-Semitism in Israel. I referenced the second article on Israeli punks last week. Again, the culprits appear to be members of the Russian diaspora, especially youths who find themselves unable to assimilate into Israeli society. Beside such cultural difficulties, could the rise in anti-Semitism in Israel also be called a form of blowback from Israel’s policy of encouraging “Jewish” immigration from the CIS as a way to replace Palestinian labor? Maybe. Maybe not. Katz doesn’t broach the subject though it seems to haunt it in terms of the political economy of anti-Semitism in Israel.
By Moti Katz
Six minors, immigrants from the CIS, were arrested early this year on suspicion of burning flags and stealing mezuzahs from Nahshonim School in Bat Yam. They also confessed to stealing mezuzahs from homes in the city on eight additional occasions. The teens attributed their actions to a hatred for Jews and Judaism. In the past three months, there have been five break-ins at synagogues in the southern city of Arad. All of the incidents have involved vandalism, the theft of charity boxes and the scrawling of obscenities on the walls.
In the past several years there have been similar incidents carried out by young immigrants from the CIS, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, throughout the country. Many religious institutions have instituted security measures as a result. In 2006 there were at least six reports of broken headstones, desecration of synagogues and graffiti with swastikas and anti-Semitic sentiments, according to figures gathered by Damir, an organization that assists victims of anti-Semitism.
Vandalism is not the only expression of anti-Semitism in Israel. In 2003 a Web site operated by Ilia Zolotov, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who called himself a “Russian patriot,” was exposed. The Web site, whose name translates to the White Israeli Union, was housed on an Israeli server. Its content included Nazi and Holocaust-denial materials. It was eventually closed down by the police. Zolotov was sentenced to community service and sent on a tour of death camps in Poland.
Haaretz has uncovered Internet sites put up by Israelis in their 30s who immigrated from the CIS that supply Nazi and Russian nationalist content.
Irina, 18, lives in central Israel. She belonged to a group of young people, “Nazi skinheads,” that terrorized the ultra-Orthodox residents of a central-Israel city. “I was a ‘skin girl,'” relates Irina, whose was the girlfriend of the group’s leader, Leonid [a pseudonym – M.K.]. Leonid, who is now about 19, immigrated at age 10 from Azerbaijan on the Law of Return. The only Jew in his family was one of his grandfathers.
Irina says that Leonid’s downslide began in the ninth grade. He felt alienated from Israeli society and decided to join up with a Nazi skinhead group. “We were a bunch of Russian new immigrants, boys and girls,” Irina relates. “Most of the boys had shaved heads and wore army pants.”
A group of about 15 teens who believed in the Nazi ideology coalesced around Leonid. One of their favorite activities, Irina says, was attacking Haredi. “Nazi skinheads hate the religious, especially Haredim, for them the Haredim are the ugly Jews … On weekends we’d meet in the parks, drinking and smoking and listening to Nazi music,” and then they would go out in search of dossim [a derogatory Hebrew term for religious Jews], Irina related. “On Hitler’s birthday we’d met at a cemetery and celebrate,” she said.
Nazi Web sites in Israel
Since the closure of Zolotov’s Web site, his successors have gotten more sophisticated. Now they use servers based abroad, usually in Russia, to evade the authorities. One such site operator is Alex [a pseudonym], who is in his 30s and holds a security-related job. His site, www.rusnatcentre.tk, is hosted by a Russian server. Alex refers to himself on the site as “the Russian tank operator” or “the fighter from Jerusalem,” a tribute to his service in the Armored Corps. In a conversation with Haaretz, he denied that his site carries anti-Semitic messages, asserting that it is pro-Russian only.
“The Russian National Center is a Russian nationalist association that lives in Israel,” Alex explains. “The main mission of our organization is nationalist propaganda among ethnic Russians residing in Israel, encouraging their return to Russia, opposing the return of Jews from Israel to Russia, and opposing conversion to Judaism,” Alex said. He will not reveal membership figures, saying only it is a “global organization whose members are adults, most of them after army service and the majority living in the center of the country.”
A Haaretz probe reveals that the RNC site is indeed Russian nationalist in nature, but it also contains anti-Semitic material. The home page features a Celtic cross, a symbol that has been adopted by neo-Nazis, and warns all Jews who have immigrated to Israel not to dare to return to Russia. It calls on all non-Jewish Russians who immigrated to Israel to return to Russia and to leave the Jews [using the derogatory Russian term zhid] in their country.
Alex is active on other, specifically Nazi, forums, such as www.slavnazi.com, in which he recommended Jurgen Graf’s “The Myth of the Holocaust” to readers in July 2005. There were 118 favorable responses from Israel to that posting.
Alex also regularly recommends films and music in Russian with Nazi content. One of his recommendations in the latter category is Kolovrat, which is known as a Nazi band. About a year ago the band members were arrested and banned for distributing Nazi propaganda when they traveled to the Czech Republic on a concert tour. Alex’s site asks readers to sign a petition calling for the group’s release, which has garnered about 150 signatures from Israeli Internet users.
Alex gets mad when he is asked whether the call to release Kolovrat is anti-Semitic. “Of course such an action won’t please the Jews, like any other action on the part of Russian nationalist!” Alex says.
When asked whether the mass Jewish immigration of Russian Jews in the 1990s was a mistake, he says it depends which immigrants you mean. “The Jewish immigration to Israel is the best and only solution, apparently, to the Jewish question in Russia. On the other hand, the mass emigration of ethnic Russians from Russia is a big mistake that we [the RNC] must correct.”
Dr. Elana Gomel, chair of the English Department at Tel Aviv University and author of “Atem ve’anachnu” (“You and Us”), a book on being Russian in Israel, agrees that there is anti-Semitism in Israel. “After the collapse of Communism,” she says, “states that were part of the Soviet Union licked their wounds and looked for ways to make up for the downfall, and it came in the form of reinforcing their nationalism. The vacuum left by Communism was filled by fascism and Nazism,” Gomel says.
“Their message is, ‘if I’m not accepted here as a Jew, then I’ll remain Russian,'” Gomel said. “The enormous gap in mentality between the cultures of the Sabras and the immigrants doesn’t help their absorption into society and they develop antagonism to Israeli society. The absurdity,” Gomel adds, “is that even if the anti-Semitic nationalists return to Russia, the Russian anti-Semites won’t accept them and will persecute them just as people of Jewish extraction in the Wehrmacht during the Nazi regime were persecuted. The phenomenon is sick because it is a form of self-flagellation that cannot be stopped,” Gomel said.
Lots of important Russia news has come and gone since I was forced to turn my attention to preparing for my trip. Immediate concerns prevented me from commenting on the fall out from the race riot in Kondopoga, the assassination of Central Bank deputy chairman Andrei Kozlov, the continuing debate about the meaning and implications of “sovereign democracy,” the Russian government throwing roadblocks on the Sakhalin-Shell Oil deal, the proposal for an “all-Caucasian” amnesty, among many other things. Who knows if I will be able to provide some thoughts on these events since the news waits for no one.
Instead, I want to turn readers’ attention to some broader issues.
As I was shopping for some reading for my London-Moscow flight, I happened upon the most recent issue of the Economist. The cover immediately struck me. It read: “Surprise! The Power of the Emerging World.” The issue was devoted to the growing economic might of mostly China and India, and predictions of China eclipsing the United States by the middle of the century. As the editors write in “The New Titans”:
Emerging countries are looming larger in the world economy by a wide range of measures. Their share of world exports has jumped to 43%, from 20% in 1970. They consume over half of the world’s energy and have accounted for four-fifths of the growth in oil demand in the past five years. They also hold 70% of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves.
Of course there is more than one respectable way of doing the sums. So although measured at purchasing-power parity (which takes account of lower prices in poorer countries) the emerging economies now make up over half of world GDP, at market exchange rates their share is still less than 30%. But even at market exchange rates, they accounted for well over half of the increase in global output last year. And this is not just about China and India: those two together made up less than one-quarter of the total increase in emerging economies’ GDP last year.
And who is part of this cadre of “emerging” or as the Economist rightly puts it by adding a historical spin, re-emerging economies? They of course include China and India, but also Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. According to their projections for 2040, the top ten economies will respectively be: China, the US, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Britain, and France. Presently, only China and Brazil are in the top ten.
The various reasons for this predicted dominance go far beyond my expertise in economics. Suffice to say that such a “re-emergence” (and the term is reserved for the fact that China and India dominated the world economy before Europe took off during the industrial revolution and what the Economist fails to remember in its historical analysis, imperialism) is not without geopolitical consequences. While there is no sign of a parallel Asian military block emerging because the US is cuddling up to India with hopes that it will become a bulwark to China, and China choosing not to transform its economic successes into military buildup, such a economic reorientation will undoubtedly produce geopolitical tensions. Some in the American sphere see this and reason that this is the real logic behind the Bush Administration’s military forays in Iraq and Afghanistan and political interventions in the Caucuses and Central Asia. Powerful states need fuel and access to oil is quickly becoming the “Great Game” of the 21st century.
Where does Russia stand in all this? While much of the Economist’s analysis focuses on the macro level, and when it does descend to the grown it focuses on China and India, Russia is included among the top ten by the middle of the century. One can guess that Russia’s growth will not be the same path as China and India. It looks unlikely that Russia will become the globe’s factory like China or the center of the informal economy like India. Russia, however, will undoubtedly be one of the fuel cells of both these economies. The question is whether this fact will push up the standard of living for Russia’s population.
If we follow Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system analysis, Russia has positioned itself as a classical periphery nation. It produces very little for an international market except for gas and oil, and imports virtually all consumer goods. One need only look at the streets of Moscow to see this. The Zhiguli is rapidly disappearing from the urban landscape only to be replaced by better built Japanese imports. Oil export has its limits and many point out, Russia consumes half of the oil it produces. Such a tend is likely to continue. The Putin administrations reliance on oil exports, places Russia at the mercy of falling oil prices and in the end might become, as Vladimir Milov, the President of the Institute of Energy Policy recently noted, an engine of stagnation.
Like the Economist, Wallerstein also sees the East’s eclipse of the United States. He argues that we are witnessing the birth of new interdependent geopolitical blocs without one center. Writing in the New Left Review he had this to say in regard to Russia’s position:
Three regions warrant special scrutiny because they are all currently in considerable turmoil, the outcome of which is likely to change the geopolitical picture: Europe, East Asia and Latin America. The European story is the best known. In the five years between 2001 and 2005, two major developments occurred in this region. The first was the direct outcome of Bush’s unilateralist revision of us foreign policy. Both France and Germany publicly opposed the US invasion of Iraq in the run-up to March 2003 and obtained support in a number of other European countries. At the same time, they made initial overtures to Russia, starting to create a Paris–Berlin–Moscow axis. In response, the us aided by Britain created a counter-movement, drawing most of the East and Central European states—what Rumsfeld called ‘new’ as opposed to ‘old’ Europe—into their camp. The motivations of the East and Central European states derived primarily from their continuing fear of Russia and hence their felt need for strong ties to the United States.
The second development was the defeat of a proposed European constitution in the referenda in France and the Netherlands. Here the lines were quite different from those over the invasion of Iraq. Some ‘no’ votes came from popular opposition to neoliberalism and fears that the new European constitution would entrench it; others from apprehension at a further expansion of Europe eastward, and the possible entry of Turkey into the EU. In both cases, those who voted No wanted a more autonomous Europe, capable of taking a greater distance from the US. But the combination of the two developments—the split over the invasion of Iraq and the defeat of the new constitution—has so far stymied any thrust towards a stronger, more independent Europe. The question is whether over the next decade this project can be relaunched on a firmer institutional and popular footing. It is still also an open issue whether such a revived European project, if it took off, would arrive at a political arrangement with Russia, such that we could speak of a Euro-Russian geopolitical pole.
While both the Economist and Wallerstein agree with the thesis of American economic decline, unlike the former, the latter does not sever the connection between the US military and economic dominance. In Wallerstein’s view, the Iraq war has exposed a fundamental contradiction of the American military: it has imaginable power, but a power ill suited for asymmetrical warfare. Still how one measures American decline is to get to this conclusion is key. The Economist focuses on hard numbers of economic and military might, while Wallerstein’s evaluation is in terms of the more ephemeral, but no less important, condition of American hegemony. In this respect the sole superpower is in dire straits.
The Euro-Russian geopolitical pole seems poised to benefit from American hegemonic decline. The EU is looking east for oil and gas and Moscow is happy to oblige though without complete subservience. Moscow maintains its power over the spigot like a mighty weapon. Thus the internal balance of the Euro-Russian axis has yet to be determined.
Suffice to say that a Kantian globe of “perpetual peace” is far from likely. Instead, we live in a time of massive geopolitical shift. Contrary to proclamations that the 21st century would be the continuation of the American Century, the world looks more and more as it did in 1914: a multipolar world with many centers bound by military or economic alliances which are competing over less and less spoils.
So, while many seemingly disparate events have evaded my vision in the last few weeks, I think that instead of playing catch up, it would be better to reemerge by positing some aspects of the larger global context. We so often forget, or worse, imagine that Russia is some isolated island that is outside of a world system that it is often necessary to take a moment and evaluate its present and perhaps future position in the global theater.
Just as readers at Siberian Light are discussing communist names, the NY Times is reporting about the President of Tajikistan’s effort to ban names with Slavic endings. President Emomali Rakhmon’s (the President formerly known as Rakhmonov) decree to drop “-ov” from family names is yet another nationalist attempt to remove the vestiges of Russia/Soviet influence over Tajik society. As Ilan Greenberg of the NY Times writes,
Amid a series of idiosyncratic decrees aimed at removing traces of Soviet influence, the president of Tajikistan announced Tuesday that he had dropped the Slavic “ov” from the end of his surname and that, henceforth, the same must be done for all babies born to Tajik parents.
Most Tajiks added a Slavic ending to their surnames when the country came under Soviet rule early in the last century.
The president, Emomali Rakhmon — formerly Rakhmonov — also banned certain school holidays and traditions associated with the Soviet period, including a holiday known as ABC Book Day, when toddlers gather in a circle to read aloud. He also ordered all university students to leave cellphones and cars at home, saying they distracted from academic study.
Mr. Rakhmon won a third seven-year term in November in a presidential election widely dismissed as a farce. But Tajikistan’s political culture has not produced the sort of ethnocentric governing style that developed in nearby Turkmenistan, where Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictatorial leader also known as Turkmenbashi (Leader of All Turkmens), died three months ago.
Central Asian governments have chosen vastly different approaches toward their ethnically mixed populations, from the extreme ethnic chauvinism prevailing in Turkmenistan to an officially enforced celebration of multiculturalism in Kazakhstan, the region’s economic giant to the north. But Tajik nationalism has “not become a dominant political force” in the country, a report prepared for the Library of Congress says.
Tajiks reached by telephone in Dushanbe, the capital, said the president’s decrees had little popular support but had engendered confusion and mild annoyance at the imposition.
“It doesn’t matter to me to say the truth; I’m not thinking about it,” said Shamsiyna Ofaridyeza, 30, an accountant in Dushanbe who is five months pregnant. “But if the president says we have to use Tajik names, then I’ll change my baby’s name. What else can I do?” Ms. Ofaridyeza and her husband have Tajik surnames made to sound more Russian.
Ms. Ofaridyeza was more supportive of the ban on students driving cars and brandishing cellphones. “Students are not studying,” she said. “They are too busy sitting on their cars showing off. But you know, we are a democratic people, and everyone should be able to name his baby what he wants.”