Ukraine: Putin Threatens Israel – Are Jews leaving Russia again – is history reloading ?

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Moscow warns Israel that supplying Ukraine with arms will ‘escalate’ conflict
After Netanyahu tells CNN he is considering supplying military aid to Kyiv, Kremlin threatens weapons will be targeted and asserts move will lead to ‘escalation of this crisis’
MOSCOW — Russia warned Israel on Wednesday against supplying weapons to Ukraine after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was considering military aid for Kyiv and was willing to mediate in the conflict.

“We say that all countries that supply weapons [to Ukraine] should understand that we will consider these [weapons] to be legitimate targets for Russia’s armed forces,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

The Kremlin has warned of an escalation in the conflict as Ukraine’s Western partners vow to supply more weapons to Kyiv.

“Any attempts — implemented or even unrealized but announced for the supply of additional, new or some other weapons — will lead to an escalation of this crisis. And everyone should be aware of this,” Zakharova said.

In an interview with CNN aired on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he was “looking into” providing Kyiv with “other kinds of aid” besides humanitarian help, amid concerns over Israel’s “complex relationship” with Russia and its need to retain “freedom of action” in Syria in its effort to “keep Iran in check.”

Washington and Berlin this month said they would supply Kyiv with modern tanks but Ukraine is also asking its backers for fighter jets and long-range artillery.

The warning from Moscow also comes after reports in recent weeks that Israel has refused requests from the US to hand over ten Hawk anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of interceptor missiles for delivery to Ukraine.

A Leopard 2 tank is seen in action during a visit of German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius at the Bundeswehr tank battalion 203 at the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks in Augustdorf, Germany, February 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
However, The New York Times reported last month that the US military was quietly shipping hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine from a massive stockpile it stores in Israel.


Israel has resisted providing weapons to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion. One major reason for Israel’s hesitance appears to be its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CNN in an interview aired January 31, 2023. (Screenshot/CNN, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The issue has strained ties between Jerusalem and Kyiv, as the Ukrainians have consistently pressed Israel to provide more defense aid. The Ukrainian ambassador earlier this month urged Israel to supply his country with missile defense systems in the wake of continued deadly Russian strikes.

Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine and the new government under Netanyahu has said it intends to keep those supplies flowing.

This week Israel sent Ukraine three armored ambulances.

Netanyahu told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he has been asked before to mediate the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and that he would “certainly consider” doing so if asked again, but only if the US agreed.

“If I’m asked by both sides, and frankly, if I’m asked by the United States — because I think, you know, you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen… and you know, we have our own backyard to deal with,” Netanyahu said.

Stephen Hall
Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics, International Relations and Russia, University of Bath

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It’s not the first time that Jews have felt it necessary to flee Russia, but the invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the fourth wave of exiles in the past hundred years.

Since Vladimir Putin became president for the second time in 2012, the authorities have become increasingly repressive towards minorities, as well as cracking down on freedom of speech and getting rid of any opposition figures. But it was the 2022 invasion of Ukraine that was the final straw for many Jewish people.

With anti-Jewish crackdowns between 1880 and 1906, about 2 million people left the Russian empire for the US; many were Jews. From 1970-88 around 291,000 Jews left the Soviet Union and in the 1990s a further 128,000 left for Germany. The new Jewish exodus has been sudden, and many are still trying to leave. Out of 165,000 Jews in Russia at the beginning of the war, reports suggest that 20,500 have left in the past six months.

Since the war began in February 2022, the authorities have doubled down on repression, changing it from a targeted practice to mass repression. An example is the arrest of children for placing flowers outside the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow in March. This is something that the Russian authorities have not done before. At the same time, the economy appears to be spiralling beyond the control of the authorities.

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Historically, when economies tank, governments often look for minorities to blame – and Russian Jews know this could be the case again.

Data from the International Monetary Fund in early August 2022 suggested that the Russian economy would only contract by 6% in 2022, rather than the predicted 8.5%. Although the economy has not collapsed – as predicted by many western specialists – businesses are leaving or have curtailed operations in Russia, and sanctions are beginning to cripple the economy.

A room with many people gathered in a square looking forward.
People gather at Moscow’s Beis Menachemn synagogue on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2012. Today many Russian Jews are worried about their future. Pavel L Photo/Shutterstock
Although Russia’s Jewish population is very small at 165,000, compared to the whole Russian population (145.2 million), it makes up a disproportionate number of the Russian middle class. This group has been in decline for a while, but the possibility of mass conscription, a failing economy and increased restrictions over the few independent areas of life have led to about 200,000 middle-class Russians leaving during the Ukraine war for Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and beyond.

Significantly, Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, left Russia in July after the authorities put pressure on him to support the war in Ukraine. In late July, the ministry of justice of the Russian Federation announced it would shut down the Moscow office of the Jewish Agency, which organises migration to Israel, after Israeli prime minster, Yair Lapid, condemned the war.

Both of these actions put many Russian Jews on high alert. In an interview after he left Russia, Goldschmidt said that the sanctions and pressure to support the war changed Russia from a modern country back to one echoing the Soviet Union.

History of Jewish repression
Sadly, antisemitism has a long and painful history in Russia. The expansion of Muscovy – a name given to combine the Grand Duchy of Moscow (1263-1547) and the Tsardom of Russia (1547-1721) – to the east and west, culminating in the pronouncement of the Russian empire in 1721, saw Russia incorporate a large Jewish population.

The partitions of Poland between 1772 and 1795 and victory over the Ottomans in the 17th century gave Russia a large Jewish minority. The Pale of Settlement, an area where Jews were forced to live, was created in 1791 to keep most Jews in the newly annexed territories and away from inner Russia.

Throughout the period of the Russian empire (1721-1917) the Jewish population experienced numerous pogroms (organised massacres). In the late Tsarist period (1905-1917), famine and state support of nationalist groups, such as the Black Hundredsresulted in the need to locate an “enemy” to blame for Russia’s woes. The Jews served this purpose and pogroms, like the one in Kishinev in 1903 (present day Chișinău, capital of Moldova) were widespread across the empire.

The Tsarist regime was imbued with a deep antisemitism, epitomised by the deep fake publication the Elders of Zion. This document was created by the Tsarist secret police – Okhrana – to justify this antisemitism and create the conspiracy that the Jews were trying to control the world.

This antisemitism continued into the Soviet Union, which was anything but the egalitarian society it claimed to be. Jewish schools and cultural institutions were closed, Jewish leaders murdered and antisemitic plots were created by the Soviet system to justify crackdowns. The 1953 doctors plot, where Jewish doctors were accused of murdering Stalin is the most famous example of these fake creations.

This persecution, combined with Israel being a key ally of the US in the cold war, put Jews in a difficult position. Facing discrimination at school and in the workplace many Russian Jews chose to leave the Soviet Union. This led to the term refusenik, where many Soviet Jews had “refused” stamped in their visa applications.

Claims circulated that Soviet Jews were a fifth column, a set of organisations aiming to undermine the national interest, and in cahoots with the US. This led to further persecution, more Soviet Jews fleeing and further accusations.

Soviet similarities
While Russia is not the Soviet Union, the Putinist system is increasingly reactionary and autocratic – some would say fascist. Autocracies generally need an enemy to put the public on their side and show that they are fighting instability and protecting the population.

The phrase came up recently, during a state-sponsored rally in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in March 2022, when Putin spoke about a fifth column and national traitors. Authoritarian leaders often like to cite an internal enemy as well as an external enemy.

The fear of Russian history repeating itself doesn’t go away. Past and present Russian regimes have always blamed Jews for their problems. Many Russian Jews are not waiting around to find out if Russia is about to take this dark path, again.

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