LOS ANGELES, April 18, 2014 — As Russia’s Vladimir Putin seeks to rebuild the Russian Empire, someone in Ukraine decided to resurrect the oldest diversion in history. When all else fails, blame the Jews.
According to news reports, unidentified masked men in the eastern city of Donetsk started handing out flyers outside of synagogues this week demanding that Jews register or leave the area.
The flyer starts, “Dear citizens of Jewish nationality.” It goes on to say that all Jews older than 16 must register with the Commissioner for Nationalities for the Donetsk region, pay a fee of $50 U.S., and register all their property.
What do the Jewish people have to do with a conflict between Russia and Ukraine? Absolutely nothing. The excuse given in the flyers for targeting Jews is their supposed support for Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which fought against the Soviet regime and Russians (“Moskali”) into the 1950s. The Jews are therefore potential enemies of the Russian people.
In this, whoever created these flyers follows the tsarist anti-Semitic line: Jews are the enemy of Russian greatness, Orthodoxy, and all that’s good. It comes down to pure bigotry dressed up as love of country.
The Jews have been persecuted throughout their history, mostly for just being Jewish. By the 1800s, 40 percent of the world’s Jews were concentrated in the Russian Empire, in a region called the “Jewish pale” that included most of Poland, Belarus, Moldova, western Russia and Ukraine. With a few exceptions, Russia didn’t allow permanent Jewish residence outside the pale, and within the pale Jews were subject to frequent anti-Jewish riots called “pogroms,” after the Russian verb gromit’ (громи́ть), “to demolish.”
The reasons for pogroms came down to pure hatred of people who were too poor and weak to represent any sort of threat. Anti-Semitism was Russian policy, then became Soviet policy under Stalin. Hatred of Jews has never gone away in the region, pogroms disappearing mostly because Hitler managed to depopulate the region of Jews.
Blind hatred is irrational and emotional. When times are tough and people are malleable, hatred rises. The Holocaust in Germany started with Jews being targeted for discrimination. It ended with six million of them murdered. This was two-thirds of the Jewish population living in Europe.
The nation of Israel has faced the threat of annihilation since its rebirth in 1948. Arabs and Muslims in many of the 22 Islamic states sent their militaries into Israel to destroy the new Jewish state. They failed, but not for lack of trying. Currently, Iran is threatening to wipe Israel off of the map.
The phrase “never again” keeps Jews in a state of constant vigilance. Jews can never get too comfortable, because the next pogrom is always just around the corner. As the cliche says, it is not paranoia if they really are out to get you. With rising Muslim populations in Europe, Jews have plenty of reason to be afraid. Jews are fleeing France in particular at a rapid rate.
Now Jews in Ukraine are being handed leaflets telling them to provide the government a list of owned property and pay a registration fee. The next step is to make them wear yellow armbands.
With the world a dangerous place for Jews, the United States has always been seen as a haven. Jews in America live comfortably, without fear of having their property confiscated and their people murdered. America will protect them.
Will it? If push comes to shove, will the Jews escape the wrath of scapegoating demagogues and riled up citizens in tough economic times?
Despite public optimism, politically liberal and conservative Jews are united in privately worrying about their safety. They take different approaches, but the end result is protection.
Conservative Republican Jews are staunch Second Amendment supporters. They understand that the first thing madmen like Hitler do is confiscate guns. If more Jews had guns during the Holocaust, there still would have been dead Jews. There would have been many more dead Nazi’s. The Jews who had guns in the Warsaw Ghetto survived longer than those who did not.
Conservative Republican Jews know that what separates America from other nations and gives Jews a modicum of safety is the Second Amendment. Anything chipping away at that right would be seen in this community as the first step toward the spread of evil.
Liberal Democrat Jews take a different approach. They focus on public relations. They obsess over outreach. They engage in every charitable activity under the sun to every part of the world. They convince themselves that by making sure they are seen as good people, the world will finally like them. Many of them even give up their religion in the hopes that being secular will make them more accepted and less threatening.
Conservative Republican Jews see the liberal Democratic Jews as weak apologists. The liberal Democratic Jews see the conservative Republican Jews as gun-toting, Torah-thumping barbarians. What unites them is a shared belief deep down that even in America, the horrors of the Holocaust could happen again.
For this reason, even in a land as safe as America, Jews of all types are right to be concerned about the events in Ukraine. They want nothing to do with the conflict and do not wish to take sides. Like Belgium in World War II, neutrality will not save Jews from being dragged into conflicts against their will. It will not stop Jews from being blamed for conflicts having nothing to do with them. Those controlling governments make those decisions.
The best liberal Democratic Jews can do is hope and pray for peace.
Conservative Republican Jews will do likewise, with a few legally owned weapons of self-defense to give them an additional fighting chance.