Antisemitism is raising its ugly head again as the winds of discontent and prejudice circle the globe. A mob hunting for Jewish travelers at a Dagestan airport is just the latest incidence in a rising epidemic.
Although it was easy to see through the dictator’s claims, at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, Vladimir Putin announced that there were three distinct intentions to invading Ukraine. Rank Russian imperialism aside, he claimed that the Russian objectives were to demilitarize Ukraine (something he has wholly failed to do), to protect the Donbas region (something else he has completely failed at), and to “denazify” Ukraine.
This last objective was somewhat bizarre given that in the previous Ukrainian elections, fewer far-right politicians were elected on the back of far fewer far-right votes than in the rest of Europe.
Fast forward one and a half years and the “special military operation” is a quagmire of a war. To throw a rather large wrench into the global geopolitical works, the Israel-Palestine conflict has reignited into an inferno.
Possibly unexpected, though, was the groundswell of pro-Palestinian sentiments throughout many parts of the world. We have seen protesting crowds rip the Israeli flag down from the UN building in Rome, a hundred thousand people in the center of London, and scuffles breaking out at protests in the US.
Rearing its ugly head is the uncomfortable specter of antisemitism. Perhaps more than ever before, we are seeing a support for the plight of the Palestinian people, although perhaps not enough has been done to clearly delineate between Palestinians and their cause on the one hand and Hamas on the other.
Considering that one of the main Russian intentions for their ill-fated war was to “denazify Ukraine,” it seems incredibly ironic that parts of Russia are experiencing a huge surge in antisemitism. Now antisemitism is of course not the same as Nazism. It’s not that Muslims from the Russian region of Dagestan are running around adopting the doctrinal positions of National Socialism and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. But people are making connections, and it doesn’t look good in the courts of social media.
This is arguably a Russian PR disaster. (As if the whole war hasn’t already catapulted Russia into becoming a pariah state.)
Last night, in the region of Dagestan, bordering the Caspian Sea on one side and Georgia and Chechnya on the other, hysterical crowds of rampaging Muslim men took to the airport at Makhachkala to round up as many Jews as they could find. This was on the back of hotels already being searched for any sign of a Jew.
1/2— Tim White (@TWMCLtd) October 28, 2023
Open Nazism in #Russia continues to flourish.
More stories of jew-hunting with 100s, maybe a thousand surrounding an hotel in #Dagestan after rumours Israelis were staying there.
Story + videos from TG channel Govorit_NeMoskva pic.twitter.com/ZKJYPWmdIQ
There were reports of crowds wanting to set fire to a hotel that was allegedly sheltering Jewish refugees. But it appears, luckily, that in all of the cases of Jews supposedly hiding or being resident in these different places, there were none. It is widely reported that the police were complicit in these activities.
In another twist of terrible irony, the word “pogrom”— denoting a violent riot incited with the aim of killing or expelling ethnic groups, especially Jews—is a Russian word. Some say that history doesn’t repeat itself but that it often rhymes. This is not a poem I am enjoying reading. As you can see from the videos below, the airport was overrun, planes were approached by angry men, cars and coaches were stopped and checked by mobs, and even one poor Uzbek was mistaken for a Jew and almost set upon by a baying crowd.
There were even rumors that one of the planes surrounded contained some 20 Dagestani children who had returned from Israel where they had received cancer treatment.
BREAKING: Pro #Hamas Pro #Palestine Mob which stormed the airport in #Dagestan, #Russia to search for Jewish passengers are now looking for Jews in cars near the airport and are clashing with police officers trying to stop them.— शून्य (@Shunyaa00) October 29, 2023
Here, they can be seen trying to flip over a… pic.twitter.com/n0z7i7BqXA
One piece of video footage purports to show some children being spoken to at the scene, children who had bought a knife because they had “come for the Jews.”
Eventually, the Russian special forces arrived in a helicopter to deal with the increasingly dangerous situation, an arrival that witnessed some additional violence. The airport is now closed and at the time of writing some 60 people have been arrested.
Russian authorities, TV pundits, and propagandists have been scratching their heads in how to react to what has taken place in Dagestan. There are some predictable examples of Russians blaming Ukraine for what has taken place in Dagestan. As Al-Jazeera report:
Moscow has blamed “external interference” for provoking unrest that closed an airport in Russia’s Muslim-majority Republic of Dagestan, warning that it will not tolerate efforts to “split Russian society”.
The Kremlin said on Monday that Ukraine…played a “key role” in fomenting an anti-Israel protest and subsequent violence at the airport. Russian officials have also inferred Western interference….
Dagestan’s governor Sergei Melikov specifically blamed an influential social media channel he said was run by “traitors” working from Ukraine for fuelling the unrest.
In yet another example of rank hypocrisy, Alexander Kots, a Russian military blogger who is also on Putin’s Human Rights Council, stated “Do you want to kill Jews? Go to Gaza. Or to Kyiv. I know the address of one, I can tell you: Bankovaya, 11.” This is in relation to President Zelenskyy of Ukraine being Jewish, and makes it clear that Russians aren’t really concerned with denazification.
Many Russians are more concerned with how this makes Russia look than any moral indignation at what the crowds were trying to do:
Dictator Vladimir Putin has apparently called a meeting of his top security officials. Putin must be careful because he spends so much time, effort, and resources in sowing discord around the world from Russian troll factories and the like, that he may be unaware of how fragile his own Russian Federation really is. Dagestan is some 83% Muslim and not too dissimilar, demographically and culturally speaking, to neighboring Chechnya. The Russian leader must play his cards carefully. Russian support of Hamas has already turned otherwise uncommitted Israeli sentiments against her— this is a must-see snippet from an RT interview of an Israeli politician:
While these terrifying events are taking place along clearly identitarian lines (Muslims versus Jews), there are potentially other variables at play. Dagestan is one of the poorest regions of Russia and also deals with significant issues of lawlessness. One could argue that this is as much about releasing a pressure valve as it is about deep-seated antisemitism. One can try to make speculative observations about the people involved: They were all men, predominantly young, and not many of them looked like quintessential Muslim fundamentalists (take that observation with a pinch of salt).
Nonetheless, these scenes are truly scary. Imagine being a Jew caught up nearby, or that poor Uzbek, surrounded by a baying mob and having both passport and phone taken from him. There are rumors that there were Jews hidden away in the airport and the Jerusalem Post reports Jews being stuck on a plane for three hours and then being whisked away in a helicopter by authorities.
At a time when many secular nonbelievers around the globe are thinking that the world is becoming an increasingly diverse and nonreligious place, we must be wary. Such episodes are stark warnings.
The likelihood is that many secular Jews and Israelis might feel forced to entrench even more into the Jewish identity as a reflexive reaction to these sorts of events.
Sadly concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, there has been scarce evidence of nuance. The history of the region and the politics of the last 100 years show that grievances emerge out of the complex interplay between the people over time. With the truly despicable actions of Hamas (I have seen the most horrific videos of what took place on 7 October that I can never unsee) and the retaliation by the Israelis that has resulted in many thousands of civilians perishing in horrific circumstances, there are horrors everywhere you look. Whatever the solution, there must be compromise, but in compromise, no side is ever fully content.
Many people understand the historic grievances that Palestinians are feeling and seeing civilians bear the brunt of much of Israel’s righteous reaction, but end up jumping to the polarised extreme. All cats are humans but not all humans are cats. All Hamas are Palestinian but not all Palestinians are Hamas. All right-wing Netanyahu government decision-makers are Israeli but not all Israelis are right-wing Netanyahu government decision-makers.
We must all be so very careful not to tar people with simplistic brushes.
Unfortunately, in this boiling geopolitical melting pot, there is a virus of discontent and grievance that can easily spread, carried in the bubbling steam to be taken on by global winds to settle elsewhere. Dagestan is just one place of many that is experiencing such resentment and disaffection. Does antisemitism stoke the discontent or does discontent stoke an already simmering antisemitism?
Either way, 2023 could really do with being consigned as quickly as possible to the dustbin of history. The problem is, there is no guarantee that 2024 will be any better.