Staunton, May 27 – It would be “strange” if there weren’t any anti-Semites among groups fighting in Ukraine, Aleksandr Verkhovsky says, but he adds that “happily we have not observed any particular growth of anti-Semitism” there despite Moscow’s claims to the contrary. In the Russian Federation, on the other hand, the trend is different and more disturbing.
In response to questions from Lechaim.ru journalists, the director of the SOVA religious and human rights research center says that in their efforts to blacken the reputation of Ukraine, the Russian media have blown out of all proportion the anti-Semitic threat there even as they have intentionally or not unleashed that threat in Russia.
While “it would be strange” if those who wanted to find an anti-Semite or two anywhere, including in Ukraine, could not do so, the Russian media have played them up to suggest that they define the situation in order to demonize and isolate Ukraine, Verhovsky says. But “happily,” there has not been “any particular growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.”
Those who watch Moscow television are certainly inclined to and even intended to generalize on individual cases, and that is exactly what is happening among Russians who day in and day out watch Moscow TV report about the supposed rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
“The events of this year,” the SOVA leader says, “have changed something in Russia.” In the coverage of Ukrainian developments, “strange things have begun to appear in our Russian media which earlier would have been excluded” and which send a message on how Russians should react.
Among the most prominent of these, but hardly exceptions to the general rule, the longtime and internationally recognized human rights monitor says, is the Moscow television film about Yuliya Tymoshenko “and about Ukrainian oligarchs with Jewish roots.”
Verkhovsky says that there appear to be two reasons for this shift. “The first is connected with the Ukrainian crisis and the propaganda campaign around Crimea.” By introducing anti-Semitic themes, the media have raised the temperature of the campaign “to a new level” and eliminated “the taboo on anti-Semitism.”
And the second cause is connected with what sociological polls conducted by us in the past year in [Russia]: a strong increase in the level of ethno-xenophobia.” So far, Jews have not been a focus of this shift, but “ethnic xenophobia in the public space is so structured that it will never be selective.
“Therefore it would be naïve to expect that such a rise in xenophobia will not touch the Jews at all,” Verkhovsky says. Those in Moscow who put out stories about anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine must know that and must know as well that those who view such stories are likely to be affected by them and not just appalled, as one might hope.