The wars in Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century have had a considerable impact on the Jews living in the region. The First World War brought about the collapse of the Pale of Settlement in the territories of the Russian Empire, drastically changing the lives of Jews residing in that area. The waves of Jewish immigration that spread throughout Europe stirred the vivid imagination of many anti-Semites and re-opened a faucet of classical anti-Semitic theories related to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in particular, alongside a Jewish domination scheme, according to which, the Jews allegedly puppeteered the World War as a whole.
The Second World War brought about the Holocaust of European and North African Jews, which was based on anti-Semitic theories tied to the National-Socialist worldview, while the systematic destruction of Jews was mainly carried out in the Eastern parts of Europe.
The Cold War was accompanied by the Iron Curtain that descended on Eastern Europe, and on the Jews living there who couldn’t emigrate. The Jews who remained locked behind the Iron Curtain became a vital bargaining chip throughout the conflict (The Jackson-Vanik amendment as one example). This war was closely followed by Soviet anti-Semitism, which was unique to the region, yet its influences were widespread and it had a substantial effect on the birth of the new generation of anti-Semitism, which is popular in Western countries today.
After a short break the tradition of war has once again returned to Eastern Europe: Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February, 2022. Each side provided their own narrative as to why the fighting broke out. According to the Russians, the conflict was not a full-scale war but a “Special Military Operation” to counter the threat of a Ukrainian invasion into Russian territory including the occupation and oppression of the Russian population living on Ukrainian territory by the illegitimate regime, controlled by a drug-addict Neo-Nazi elite. According to the Ukrainians, the Russian invasion was a declaration of war from Russia to Ukraine in an attempt to annex more Ukrainian territory and install a pro-Russian regime instead of the current Ukrainian government.
In contrast to previous wars, the area in conflict was not populated by a large Jewish community. However, the Jewish subject still dominates the discussions, especially as a propaganda tool in an attempt to prove points made by both sides. One of the main reasons for that is the importance of the Holocaust in the modern historic narrative. The Holocaust is widely regarded as the greatest crime in modern history, and as a result of that, Jews are seen as the “ultimate victim”. The combination of those two aspects leads to increased usage of rhetoric from the days of WW2, a sort of “edge-case language” and constant branding of the other side as being “Nazi”, which are allegations of crimes of the highest order. At the same time, there is a direct comparison of the suffering of one side’s people to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust, which is done to give credibility and describe the “ultimate suffering”. And yet, usage of these terms to describe today’s reality is a symptom of minimization of the Holocaust’s impact, an anti-Semitic trope common around the world today.
Directly resulting from the higher importance attributed to the Jewish subject in the region, is the almost complete disappearance of any reports regarding anti-Semitic events in the area. Previously, media in both Russia and Ukraine, alongside Jewish organizations, would regularly report anti-Semitic events (physical or verbal violence towards Jews, damage to Jewish cultural or religious institutes, desecration of memorials, etc). Since the breakout of the war, reports like these have dwindled in number, both from media outlets and the Jewish organizations themselves. It is safe to assume that the anti-Semitic events haven’t stopped but their coverage ceased.
In the wake of the war, censorship and control of the media in Russia increased, leading to the shutdown of “opposition” media channels. Meanwhile, Ukraine has enacted war censorship laws, so all information passing through the media has to be approved to get published. Both countries seem to strive to paint a “rosy” picture of the situation in regards to the state of the Jews in the areas, thanks to collaborations with Jewish organizations in each country respectively.
A prominent example of this is the transition of the website of the Jewish communities of Ukraine to creating content in the Ukrainian language instead of the Russian language, which was used until the outbreak of the war, as part of the mobilization of the local community to show its support for the Ukrainian national effort. The website continues to report on any anti-Semitic events occurring around the world, except on ones occurring in Ukraine itself. For example, absent are reports about anti-Semitic acts committed during the celebrations of Rosh HaShana in Uman, a time known for its anti-Semitic occurrences, as is to be expected from an event in which many people with different looks and a different culture participate while it’s being held in a tight geographical area with a substantial local populace. This year, according to the website, there were almost no anti-Semitic acts perpetrated in Uman. The lack of official information about such events speaks volumes.
The Jewish motif regarding the war began even prior to the fighting breaking out. Russian public figures and the federal media used rhetoric from World War II in the context of tensions on the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian regime was branded a “Neo-Nazi junta” and reminders of Ukrainian ultranationalist cooperation with the Nazis during WW2 began to appear on a regular basis in media outlets. The publication of the travel warning to Ukraine, issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 11th, echoed in the Russian media, emphasizing that the Jews “know how to recognize danger ahead of time” and “take care of each other”, therefore Israeli statements on the subject were displayed in the media as a sign that something was going to happen. Most of the reports were presented in a neutral manner, without clear anti-Semitic statements, although the very concept of “Jewish identification” contains deep anti-Semitic roots, related to “classic anti-Semitic” perceptions of “international Jewry”.
It is a point critical to understanding the rhetoric regarding Jews in Russia. Historically, mentions of Jews in general, or of people with Jewish surnames, in the media carry within them significance, and a much wider field of discourse than the subject of the mention itself. There is a stereotypical meaning system, the roots of which stem from the Soviet era, but continues to exist to this day. This aspect is important to understanding the discourse on the Jewish theme in Russian media.
There are few cases where anti-Semitism is expressed in a blatant way, and they are the exceptions that showcase the rule. Even in media outlets that give a platform to well-known anti-Semites, blatant anti-Semitism is not too popular, such as in the newspaper “Zavtra”, “TsarGrad” channel or the YouTube channel “DenTV”. However, usually it is enough for the presenter/author to highlight the surname or first name in conjunction with the patronymic name (a combination that usually allows for easy recognition of one’s Jewish heritage in Russia), and the listener/reader will easily understand that the subject is a Jew and will infer the stereotypical connection that the source material chose to present.
Blatant anti-Semitic content is almost entirely absent from federal media, and it would seem that there is an official requirement from the government to keep it this way. Additionally, many of the most popular TV presenters of current affairs programs in Russia are themselves Jewish, such as Vladimir Solovyov, the host of the most important and well-known current affairs program in Russia.
Despite this, rarely there have been direct anti-Semitic remarks blurted out by public figures. For example, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov during an interview with an Italian TV channel, addressing the dialectic of accusations against Zelensky as a Nazi supporter despite him being Jewish, said “I may be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood”. Lavrov’s statement provoked a wave of negative reactions in the world media and in Israel in particular. According to reports from Israeli sources, President Putin apologized for Lavrov’s words in a telephone conversation with Naftali Bennett, but it is important to note that the fact of the apology was not mentioned at all on the Kremlin website.
At the same time, the attitude towards Israel as a military power in the positive sense of the word is widespread. One example of that is the popularity of Yakov Kedmi, the former head of the “Nativ” organization, who frequently appears on television programs as a commentator, and introduces himself as a “retired general of the Israeli intelligence”. Kedmi gained a lot of trust in Russia because he is seen as a veteran of the Israeli security system. This duality is important, and characterizes the type of anti-Semitism widespread in Russia. On the one hand, we observe the embedding of tropes found in classical anti-Semitism together with Soviet anti-Semitism, but on the other hand, we see a reduced usage of neo anti-Semitic tropes, and admiration of Israel as a model for a country with a militaristic society and a country with significant military power.
One of the official goals of the “Special Military Operation” during the first stage was “Denazification” of Ukraine (in Russia it is forbidden to refer to the armed conflict as a war, but as a “Special Military Operation”). The Russians claimed that they were fighting against the forces of Nazism who took over Ukraine with the support of “Western backers”. Official Russian media directly referred to the president of Ukraine, Zelensky, as a “Nazi”. As one might recall, Zelensky himself is Jewish. However, Russian political and media sources avoided mentioning this fact, most likely to prevent the contradiction of calling Zelensky a “Jew” and a “Nazi”.
The emigration wave, which included many public culture and entertainment figures, led to criticism towards them, as those who abandon their homeland in its time of need. The word “liberals” became a slur in Russian media, but oftentimes beneath the branding of “liberal” hid surnames of Jewish public and cultural figures. This trend is very worrying, because it resembles Soviet anti-Semitism that began to develop in the mid-1940s. At that time, in place of the word “liberals”, the term “rootless cosmopolitans” was used, and if we wrote the surnames of those “cosmopolitans” most of them would’ve turned out to be Jewish, and so the terms “cosmopolitan” and “Jew” became synonyms. Nowadays the situation is quite similar in regards to the terms “liberal” and “Jew”, which often go hand in hand in social media and in mainstream media. The tightening of the connection between the words is cause for concern, especially in light of the negative discourse regarding “liberals” in the media.
In social media the discourse was even more extreme; there, Zelensky was constantly accused of “sending Slavs to fight each other” due to being Jewish. Another significant motif presented was that Jews “run away during wartime”, with a direct correlation to the Soviet-era anti-Semitic trope, according to which the Jewish population ran to the rear echelon during WW2. The extensive use of terms taken from the period of “The Great Patriotic War” created a field of discussion in which Russia sees itself as a potential victim of the “Nazism” developing in Ukraine, thus creating a historical inversion, in which the Russians became the main victims during the period of the Patriotic War, without specific mention of the methodical extermination of the Jews during this period .
This trend only got more popular in light of the sanctions which were enacted on Russia by many of the Western countries. As a result, there was a sharp increase in the attempt to present the Russians as “victims” of the West, following the sanctions imposed on them. A part of the discourse on the matter focused on a comparison between the state of Russians today as well as their “persecution” and the state of Jews in Germany on the eve of the breaking out of the world war. Examples of such are to be found in pop culture; the music video of the popular-in-Russia band “Leningrad” directly highlighted that by saying “for the Europeans, the Russian is the new Zhid (a Slavic slur for Jews)”.
Several social media platforms have been partially blocked in Russia, such as Twitter and Facebook; however, the ban can be easily bypassed with a VPN. With that in mind, the scope of use of these platforms has decreased, and the main social media in Russia today is Telegram. Telegram also serves as a medium for news, as many public figures and mainstream media outlets maintain an active Telegram channel. In these channels there are many posts that would not be eligible for publishing in federal media outlets, among those, blatant anti-Semitic statements and claims.
The social media platform VKontakte continues to allow the existence of anti-Semitic groups among its users. But at the same time, it is being patrolled consistently by the law enforcement authorities, and those who publish blatant extremist anti-Semitic content are arrested and put on trial, and news of their arrest are publicized in the media. It is important to note that most public figures and media personalities rarely use this platform, and most of their activity is through Telegram.
Following the many complications in the war from the Russian side, the criticism from Russian nationalist elements on the conduct of the fighting is increasing, while looking for domestic scapegoats. The blame often falls on Jewish people who are close to the authorities. For example, Igor Girkin, a Russian nationalist, who was one the commanders of the pro-Russian militias in the Donbas in 2014, criticizes the Russian leadership often, as well as the Jews who are members of staff of said authorities and media outlets. Girkin makes sure to emphasize the Jewish surnames of these senior officials, or even invent surnames for them that will sound more Jewish to his listeners. One example is when Girkin criticized the journalist and TV host Vladimir Solovyov for lying about what is actually happening on the frontlines, and in order to strengthen his claims, Girkin attached the last name “Shapira”to Solovyov, so that the latter’s Jewish origins would be easily recognized by everyone. This brand new trend of direct criticism of a person in relation to pro-government public figures, against the background of their Jewish origins, by Russian nationalists, is alarming. The complications in the war effort, and the criticism of its management, from the nationalist circles in Russia, could lead to a search for domestic scapegoats, and raise the level of anti-Semitism in the country in the near future.
Before the outbreak of war, one of the leaders of the nationalist militias of Ukraine, Dmytro Yarosh, wrote in social media about the “need to look for collaborators and traitors and to act against them according to wartime emergency laws” several times, while hinting at the Jews residing in the country. However, a short while later he changed his stance, and after witnessing the soaring popularity of President Zelensky, even called him a “brother-in-arms”. This change in the trend of Ukrainian nationalists indicates the great popularity of President Zelensky, adding to it that his Jewishness is seen as an advantage by the general public.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian side continues to exploit the Jewish matter in order to gain international support and legitimacy. The Ukrainians have adopted the discourse taken from the Second World War, and accuse the Russians of “Nazi” actions against them. One of the common uses is the media emphasis given to the damage to Jewish religious and cultural institutions during the war, and an attempt by the Ukrainians to show that these damages were done deliberately by the Russians. For example, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, senior officials in the Ukrainian government and the country’s media claimed that the Russians allegedly bombed the “Babi Yar” memorial site in Kiev. A scan of the area has shown that the area was, in fact, not damaged, but the Ukrainians kept on repeating the false report on the bombing.
In May, a building in Mariupol, which functioned as a synagogue in the past century, was hit. The Ukrainian media claimed that it was a deliberate strike against the synagogue, although in reality the municipal authorities, for many years, have refused to return the building to the Jewish community and it does not currently function as a synagogue.
President Zelensky, in a speech to members of the Israeli Knesset in March, spoke about the Russian attempt to enact a “Final Solution” for the Ukrainian people, with a direct reference to the fate of the Jewish people in Europe during the 1940s. Zelensky’s speech caused an outrage in the media, and he was accused of using the memory of the Holocaust to advance his political agenda.
Zelensky’s words showcase a common historical narrative in the countries of Eastern Europe, like Poland, Lithuania and Hungary, who all view themselves as victims of both Communism and Nazism, alongside the Jews. This narrative denies the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and sees the mass murder of civilian populations in Eastern Europe during World War II as one event without any national differences. The accepted perception in Israel regarding the cooperation of the local populations in the murder of the Jews in these areas contradicts the local narratives. This tendency emphasizes the erosion of the Holocaust’s memory in the region on the one hand, and the internal legitimization on the part of the Ukrainians in using this motif to achieve their political goals, on the other. The Ukrainian stance is cause for worry, as it supports the narrative of Ukrainians taking part in saving Jews during the Holocaust; however, it also rewrites their part in the extermination of Jews, under the pretext of “the need for a positive attitude towards the society fighting for its independence”. The comparison made by Pope Francis between what is happening in Ukraine today and the Holocaust demonstrates the success of this trend—a trend which might change the memory of the Holocaust in the region, suppress the particularity of the extermination of the Jews and turn it into a common tragedy of all the nations in present-day Eastern Europe.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Other changes, in regards to anti-Semitism, are happening in the Caucasus region. An anti-Israel and partially anti-Semitic agenda has begun catching stride in Armenia since the war in Autumn of 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenians accused Israel of providing military support to Azerbaijan, accusations that were swiftly followed by a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment in the country, especially in social media. In light of the quick warming of relations between Armenia and Iran along with the deterioration of relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, Tehran is trying to promote a political agenda with the partial help of anti-Semitic propaganda in the region. This way Iran hopes to damage the alliance between Israel and Azerbaijan. To give an example, Iranian propaganda, which was aimed to be spread in Azerbaijan, already several times depicted the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, in an anti-Semitic caricature. Iranian politicians also claimed that Aliyev is a “Zionist puppet”, and even published videos in support of their claims. Aliyev’s representation as a caricature was taken directly from classical anti-Semitism and it is crucial to understanding Iranian policy. Iran has attempted to show its anti-Israel policy is not tainted with anti-Semitic sentiment, but only serves to fight the State of Israel.
Anti-Semitic caricatures and statements of Iranian publications in Azerbaijan, directed against the leadership of the country, did not find an audience among the Azerbaijanis, except for the obvious Khomeinist pro-Iranian accounts on social media. In particular, according to local intelligence agencies, the distribution is carried out through closed WhatsApp groups.
The distribution of caricatures, and the proprietary messages that go with them, in Azerbaijan is handled by, among others, organizations such as the Iran-based Hüseyniyyun group. In the early 2000s, Hüseyniyyun incited protests against crackdowns on Iranian-style religious activity in Azerbaijan, but due to mass arrests, many members of the organization ran off to Iran. Many of them would later relocate to Syria, joining the Iran-backed militias which were fighting ISIS. In 2013, the founder of the movement, Tohid Ibrahimbeyli, met with the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, and received orders to create an organization which would recruit Azerbaijanis to participate in the armed conflict in Syria. At the end of 2015, Ibrahimbeyli instructed 14 students from Azerbaijan, who continued their religious studies in Qom and Mashhad, to create a brigade. Following military training, the brigade was sent to Damascus. There, Ibrahimbeyli made the acquaintance of the late general Qasem Soleimani, commanding officer of the special unit “Sepah-e Qods” of the IRGC.
In November of 2022, Ibrahimbeyli told the news agency ISNA about his subversive activities in Azerbaijan. According to his statements, “Azerbaijan has turned into a province of the Zionist regime… Aliyev’s government’s obedience to the will of the Zionists has caused tense relations with Iran”. “Azerbaijan and the Caucasus need a full-fledged Islamic resistance organization akin to Hezbollah. Qassem Soleimani supported this idea and gave us instructions. The Zionists and Aliyev are scared because we are doing explanatory work, we have many channels in social networks and on Internet platforms”, the leader of the group emphasized.
“In the span of 30 years, the Zionists, the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have worked in Azerbaijan and today no more than 5% of the population of the country support Iran. However, in 5 years we will be able to repair the damage caused… TV channel Sahar Azeri (a specially created channel in Iran in the Azeri language to influence the Shiites in Azerbaijan) began working on it, but it is not enough, it requires more effort”, continued Ibrahimbeyli.
In truth, more effort is required because the attitude towards Jews and Israel in Azerbaijan, which even prior to the Karabakh war of 2020 was very good, significantly improved. If we analyze the situation, then it is evident that Iranian anti-Israeli propaganda, directed against Azerbaijanis, strangely enough played a positive role. Taking into account that prior to and during the 2020 Karabakh war weapons supplies to Armenia would go through Iranian territory, while at the same time Israeli arms would be given to Baku, the potential target audience in Azerbaijan clearly witnessed how the Iranian anti-Semitic propaganda diverged from reality.
At the same time, in Armenia, there are dozens of channels on the Telegram platform, with hundreds of thousands of followers, who publish blatant anti-Semitic content within the groups. For example, the word “Zhid” was mentioned more than a thousand times in a popular Armenian Telegram channel, which has more than 10,000 members, without the channel’s administrators even batting an eye. It is important to note that these Telegram channels operate mostly in the Russian language, apparently with the aim of influencing the opinion of many Russians who have immigrated to the country in recent months. This propaganda is based on classic anti-Semitic motifs, presenting the Jew in a variety of anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Racist and anti-Semitic messages in Armenian social media are quite common, as mentioned. One example, the user “Armenian Radical” published a post about how “Zhidsrael” would soon turn into a Middle Eastern “dumpster” due to the intermixing of the “white” population with the “genetically dumber” population of Jews from Africa and the Middle East (https://t.me/ARMENISCH88/38699). This post was a reference to another post from the same user showcasing two images of members of the aforementioned “genetically dumber” African and Middle Eastern Jewish populations, with the caption “these are the Jews who can ‘teach us’”(https://t.me/ARMENISCH88/38673). Another example can be seen in a post by user “katakombilabirinti” who posted about the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Iran, stating “the Azerbaijanis immediately contacted their Turkish masters, so why not also call their Zhid masters as well?” (https://t.me/katakombilabirinti/28185). The anti-Semitic trends are countless, whether in reference to Israel, Azerbaijan, or Jews in general. It seems that Armenian anti-Semites swallow whatever content they can from Iranian anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda, mixing it with their own preconceived notions from Soviet anti-Semitism.
To summarize this deep dive into the different iterations of anti-Semitic tendencies in the turbulent areas of post-Soviet territory, it’s easy to spot similarities and differences between all the aforementioned approaches.
In Russia the trend has recently been directed at Jews as somewhat of a socio-economic class with a shared political agenda. Jews have been depicted as cowards, running away when their country needs their support in war, while also being depicted as traitors with an anti-Russian stance. Modern Russian anti-Semitism goes against Russia’s own Jewish population while admiring Israel as a separate entity for its militaristic society and power.
Ukraine, similarly, exhibited anti-Semitism towards its own Jewish population with many criticizing and accusing the community of backing away from the national defensive war against Russia. However, with President Zelensky being an icon in Ukraine as well as being Jewish, the use of this anti-Semitic trope has subsided since February 24th, 2022. However, Ukraine, together with other post-Soviet and Eastern European countries, would exhibit another anti-Semitic trend—victimization. The aforementioned countries work to rewrite the history of WW2 and the Holocaust, downplaying the parts they played in cooperation with the Nazi authorities in exterminating Jews while at the same time putting forward a narrative where the local populations of these countries were victims just as much as the Jews.
Armenia, on the other hand, is a melting pot of 2 types of anti-Semitism. One part Soviet-era anti-Semitism, treating Jews similarly to how Russia treats their Jewish population today – with distrust and a general xenophobic and hostile attitude due to the preconceived notion that the Jews have their own agenda, which contradicts national interests, while the other part is what Armenians pick up from Iranian propaganda. Iranian anti-Semitism is presented under the guise of anti-Israeli sentiment; however, it is often directed at Azerbaijan, presenting the leadership as anti-Semitic puppets in offensive caricatures followed by many anti-Semitic statements. Armenian anti-Semitism combines the anti-Israel anti-Semitism of Iran with the xenophobic attitude towards all Jews commonly found in the Soviet Union.
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 Subotić, Jelena. “Holocaust Memory and Political Legitimacy in Contemporary Europe.” Holocaust studies (2022): 1–18..
 It is important to note that in Russia, the Second World War is known as “The Great Patriotic War”. The Second World War broke out on the 1st of September, 1939, while The Great Patriotic War began with the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany on the 22nd of June, 1941, and its geographical extent is only the areas in which Soviet forces fought.
 Sherlock, Thomas. “Antisemitism in Russia: Evaluating Its Decline and Potential Resurgence.” Post-Soviet affairs 38.3 (2022): 175–205. Web.
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 Iran’s antisemitic tendencies are being used not just against Israel, but against its major ally Azerbaijan. 22.11.22