As Russian forces continue to lose ground in Ukraine, the discourse in Russian media is turning increasingly anti-Semitic.
Russian media discourse about Jews began to change roughly two months ago, when Ukrainian troops began to stop the Russian advance. According to former Israeli MK Roman Bronfman, anti-Semitic language in the Russian media saw a spike again recently, when Ukraine retook ground.
Bronfman’s observations of anti-Semitic discourse among Russian media sources came about through his research and writing about Russian Jewry post-Soviet Era.
The recent shift toward more anti-Semitic language is noticeable because of how Russian President Vladimir Putin previously distinguished himself from his predecessors by cracking down on anti-Semitism with forceful policing and harsh sentences.
Russian leaders prior to Putin were known to directly promulgate, encourage or tolerate open anti-Semitism in the public sphere.
Now, seemingly without fear of repercussions, the Russian mainstream media openly call Jews “unpatriotic” or accuse them of siding with Ukraine out of greed – an old anti-Jewish stereotype.
“At a moment when the regime’s stability was threatened, a Jewish target was selected,” Bronfman said. “In many ways this is a repeat of multiple episodes in Russian history, including the final days of Joseph Stalin’s time in power.”
In September, an article in the Moscow-based daily paper Moskovskij Komsomolets, which reaches almost 1 million readers, listed well-known Russian Jews as “foreign agents” – a term the Russian government uses when it wants to categorize its perceived enemies.
The article’s writer, Dmitry Popov, added, in a sarcastic vein, that the Jews might one day form a government in “the beautiful Russia of the future.”
After Popov’s article, several Russians said that anti-Semitism had returned to the country.
“Anti-Semitism has returned: Jews are blamed for the ‘beautiful Russia of the future,’” wrote Yulia Kalinina, a former longtime writer at the same paper, who is of Jewish ancestry. Kalinina’s comments were published last week by the Novye Izvestia daily paper, also based in Moscow.
A third Moskovskij Komsomolets employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Novye Izvestia: “Russian anti-Semitism is much older than the Soviet Union. One of the three Russian words that have become an international term, in addition to vodka, is pogrom.”
Anti-Semitism has become so acceptable again in Russia that think tanks also resort to it.
The Strategic Culture Foundation, a Russian conservative think tank frequently quoted by the Russian mainstream media, and also foreign media, published a vicious anti-Semitic comment about French-Jewish philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy when he visited Ukraine last week.
“This 74-year-old French citizen, born in a family of Algerian Jews, smells blood with his nose and, without delay, flies to lap it up – and for good money,” the wrote Agnia Krengel, a regular contributor for the Foundation, in an article published by the think tank. That Jews consume blood and are obsessed with money are old anti-Semitic tropes that go back as far as the Middle Ages.
According to Bronfman, it is unlikely that Putin and his government are orchestrating the rising anti-Semitism in Russia.
“The anti-Semitic rhetoric we’re seeing now, the loosening of the taboo around it, are probably not directed directly by Putin’s government. Nor was the perception that Putin cares for Jews,” Bronfman said. “These are matters of a general atmosphere. Officials and the general population are reading between the lines on how they should treat the Jews. And the message is changing.”
Nevertheless, leading officials in Russia have shown that it has become acceptable to make nasty comments about Jews.
Earlier this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov caused outrage in Israel and abroad when he said in an interview with an Italian TV channel, “So what if Zelenskyy is Jewish? The fact does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine. I believe that Hitler also had Jewish blood. Some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews.”
Putin eventually apologized to Israel for Lavrov’s remarks.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.