The battle in Gaza isn’t solely difficult the geopolitics of the Middle East: It’s also complicating matters in Ukraine, as Russia seeks to capitalize on rising anti-Israeli sentiment in the Global South.

Russia was sluggish to sentence the Oct. 7 attack in Israel and has hosted a succession of Hamas delegations in Moscow. It additionally works closely with Iran, Hamas’ main sponsor.

In the meantime, U.S. backing for Israel is further eroding help for Ukraine within the World South, amid accusations of double standards over how the West views the plight of civilians within the two wars.

As an expert on modern Russia, I see deeper dynamics at work. Putin’s stance on the Israel-Hamas battle feeds right into a narrative of utilizing antisemitism to disparage perceived enemies and defend Russian actions: a tactic that has deep historic origins in the Soviet Union and czarist Russia.

‘A century of antisemitism’

The Gaza battle erupted at a vital second within the battle in Ukraine. Ukraine’s counteroffensive within the fall of 2022 had stalled, whereas Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to ship extra support to Ukraine.

On Jan. 25, 2024, the U.S. State Division’s World Engagement Heart, tasked with combating Russian disinformation, released a 50-page report documenting the methods wherein Russian propaganda has weaponized antisemitism to rally help towards Western backing for Ukraine.

The report, launched two days earlier than International Holocaust Remembrance Day, argues, “For over a century, Tsarist, Soviet and now Russian Federation authorities have used antisemitism to discredit, divide, and weaken their perceived adversaries at residence and overseas.”

As if to show the report’s predominant level, simply two days earlier than it was printed, Russian International Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova strayed into the world of Holocaust denialism.

In a Jan. 21 press conference, Zakharova criticized Germany for submitting a movement in help of Israel on the Worldwide Court docket of Justice within the Hague, the place Israel is defending itself against the charge of genocide.

Germany, Zakharova stated, had no proper to lecture anybody about genocide. In any case, she continued, throughout World Conflict II, Germany presided over the extermination of “varied ethnic and social teams,” with Hitler’s predominant purpose being the elimination of the Slavic peoples.

At no level throughout her prolonged remarks, which ran to 1,500 phrases, did Zakharova point out that Jews had been amongst Hitler’s victims. The omission led to criticism that Russia is intentionally downplaying if not denying the Jewish Holocaust.

Zakharova went on to conflate Germany’s protection of Israel with its help for Ukraine: “Berlin has as soon as once more mired itself in exterminating folks in part of Europe the place 80 years in the past Hitler failed in his effort to exterminate or subdue folks.”

Presumably, Zakharova’s feedback had been aimed toward audiences in the Global South, which have typically been extra sympathetic to Russia’s argument that the battle in Ukraine is a battle towards Western imperialism.

Weaponizing hate

This isn’t the primary time that the Russian overseas ministry has opened itself to accusations of antisemitism. In Could 2022, International Minister Sergey Lavrov provoked worldwide outrage when, in response to a query over how Russia might declare to be denazifying Ukraine when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, replied: “I may very well be unsuitable, however Hitler additionally had Jewish blood. (That Zelensky is Jewish) means completely nothing. Smart Jewish folks say that probably the most ardent antisemites are normally Jews.”

Putin subsequently apologized for Lavrov’s remarks in a name with then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, though there was no public apology.

And Lavrov quickly returned to the theme of equating the actions of perceived enemies with these of Nazis. In January 2023, Lavrov said NATO is “utilizing Ukraine to wage a proxy battle towards Russia with the outdated goal of lastly fixing the ‘Russian query,’ like Hitler, who sought a last resolution to the ‘Jewish query.’”

A man in a suit shuffles papers behind a sign reading Russia. Behind him are various flags.
Putin’s phrases are aimed toward members of the World South.
Alexander Kazakov/AFP via Getty Images

This rising tide of state propaganda spilled over into some precise acts of mob antisemitism. In October 2023, at an airport in Dagestan, a Muslim-majority province in southern Russia, a a crowd hunted for Jewish refugees after a flight landed from Israel. Moscow has been accused of doing little to rein in such manifestations of antisemitism.

Distorting historical past

Because the State Division report documents, antisemitism has been a scourge in imperial, Soviet and now post-Soviet Russia.

It spans the pogroms of czarist Russia and the 1903 publication of the faux “Protocol of the Elders of Zion,” by way of Stalin’s marketing campaign towards “rootless cosmopolitans,” to Operation Zarathustra, which concerned Soviet brokers portray neo-Nazi graffiti in West Germany within the late Fifties.

Zakharova’s remarks may be seen as a continuation of the Soviet custom of Holocaust denial. As Chilly Conflict scholar Izabella Tabarovsky has noted, “The Soviets systematically denied that Jews had been specific targets of Nazi atrocities.” Memorials on the websites of killing fields within the Soviet Union the place Jews had been marched out and shot within the fall of 1941 and 1942 sometimes referred to the victims as “peaceable Soviet residents” slightly than Jews.

The official Russian narrative of World Conflict II argues that the lack of 27 million lives meant that the Soviet Union was the principle sufferer of Nazism. It’s, after all, true that Russians suffered grievously by the hands of the Nazis and that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the fighting towards Hitler as soon as they joined the battle in June 1941, two years after it began.

Nonetheless, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Yugoslavs and Poles all suffered greater casualties, as a proportion of their inhabitants, than Russians.

And the Jews and Roma of Europe, after all, had been uniquely focused for elimination.

Because the Soviet Union drew into nearer alliance with the Arab world within the Nineteen Sixties, the Soviet Union grew to become more and more hostile to U.S.-backed Israel. For instance, Moscow was a sponsor of the controversial United Nations Resolution 3379, which denounced Zionism as a type of racism. The decision, seen by critics as fueling antisemitism, handed the U.N. Normal Meeting in 1975 however was revoked in 1991.

Putin’s flirtation with antisemitism

Through the first years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, he had a very positive angle towards Israel. In 2005, he was the primary Russian chief to go to Israel. And there’s no proof that Putin is personally antisemitic.

Ties between Russia and Israel had been deep, partially because of the presence of some 1.25 million Jews from the former Soviet Union in Israel, accounting for 17% of the entire inhabitants. Round 50,000 extra have arrived for the reason that outbreak of the Ukrainian battle in 2022.

Nonetheless, after 2021, as Russian officers began making absurd claims about neo-Nazis being in power in Kyiv, the connection with Israel cooled.

Israel backed Ukraine through the June 2021 to December 2022 coalition authorities of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid and condemned the Russian invasion. However Israel subsequently shifted away from Kyiv after Benjamin Netanyahu took energy in 2022.

Partly, Israel modified its stance as a result of it didn’t need Russia to make use of its air defenses in Syria to prevent Israel from striking targets there. After the Hamas assault on Oct. 7, nevertheless, Israel stepped up its raids in Syria and stopped warning Russia upfront, whereas Russia aggressively condemned Israel’s army actions in Gaza.

Putin’s ploy might backfire

Russia’s ploy to hyperlink the wars in Gaza and Ukraine might win it a number of extra pals within the World South. However it dangers alienating influential gamers similar to India, which underneath Narendra Modi has develop into increasingly pro-Israel.

The strikes by Houthi militants on ships within the Pink Sea are of concern to India and others who see their worldwide commerce disrupted. India is now the second-largest importer of Russian oil after China, and that oil is carried on tankers by way of the Suez Canal.

On Jan. 26 2024, a Houthi missile struck an Indian-crewed tanker carrying Russian oil from Greece to Singapore, vividly illustrating how Moscow’s fanning of anti-Israeli sentiment can backfire, affecting the financial pursuits of its allies and of Russia itself.

The following day, Putin spoke at a ceremony to open a monument to Nazi genocide in Zaitsevo, close to St. Petersburg, to mark the eightieth anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad. He talked about dying camps and Auschwitz however by no means talked about the Jews.


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