Vienna, August 18 – In the overheated atmosphere of Russia today, Georgian President Mihkiel Saakashvili’s praise for the contribution Israel and Jews in his own country made to Georgia’s defense in its conflict with Moscow has attracted the attention of Russian nationalists, whose comments about this could spark a new outburst of anti-Semitism in Russia.
In an interview published in the Israeli newspaper “Ma’ariv,” Saakashvili said that “Israel took a small but extremely important part” in the war between Georgia and the Russian Federation. And he said that “Israeli military help” had allowed Georgia to destroy 50 Russian tanks, 19 plans and two helicopters (www.islamnews.ru/news-13797.html).
The Georgian president also told that paper that Jews in Georgia itself “occupy key positions” in his government: “the defense minister and the conflict resolution minister are Jews who have Israeli citizenship, and these positions involve the most critical questions of the future of our country and its security.”
Another Georgian official, Timur Yakubashvili, who is also Jewish, however, told “Ha'aretz” that Tbilisi was not happy when the Israeli government gave orders to its firms to stop shipping weapons when the fighting started. But he said that Georgia is “grateful” to Israeli firms which “gave us the chance” of developing the military and resisting the Russian advance.
Such comments, of course, are entirely natural when leaders give interviews to media outlets in another country. But certain extreme Russian nationalists are playing up these comments on Georgia’s ties to Israel and on the role it and Georgian Jews have had as part of their efforts to whip up Russian passions.
But if Georgia is their first target, it is unfortunately entirely possible given Russia’s long and disturbing history of anti-Semitism that some Russian nationalists may read such commentaries as a justification for attacking not only Georgians within the Russian , something that has already taken place, but Jews there as well.
An example of such writings is an article by Anatoly Gerasimov, head of the Russian Information-Cultural Center in Israel who earlier this year lost his position in the presidium of the International Council of Russian Compatriots Abroad for talking about Israeli military assistance to Georgia (www.homeru.com/news/content/view/6023/175/).
Gerasimov’s article repeats what Saakashvili and Yakubashvili said but portrays their remarks as indicative of some kind of Jewish conspiracy in Tbilisi against Russia: “Today in the entourage of Mikhail Nikolozovich Saakashvili there are many Jews – ministers and parliamentarians, successful businessmen, military instructors, advisors and consultants.”
“Israeli and Jewish businessmen from around the world have invested enormous sums in the economy of Georgia. There sphere of activity ranges from construction and sale of property to the provision of military technology.” And he cites a former Georgian ambassador to Israel has having said that Israelis have invested “a billion dollars” in Georgia.
Gerasimov provides a list of some of the companies involved, and then he focuses on his own travails when he attempted to “speak publicly in Moscow in the spring of 2008 about the growing deliveries of Israeli arms to Georgia and about the Israeli military instructors who considered that Georgia was actively preparing for war with its autonomies.”
His “warnings to Russia” about what was coming, his “criticism of Russian Jewish ministers,” Gerasimov said “cost [him] his place” in Russia’s program for working with Russian compatriots abroad. And he ends his article by “reminding” his readers that “thousands of Christians and Muslims” now are “defenseless before the Zionist aggressor.”
That there are individuals with such hateful views is tragically not surprising. But what is disturbing is that Gerasimov’s article has been picked up by other Internet sites – including “Russkaya liniya,” one close to the Orthodox Church (www.rusk.ru/st.php?idar=105386) – and his poisonous views are thus being spread to those Russians who are now looking for enemies.
Meanwhile, a curious twist on this story is provided by the comments of Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizbullah. He said yesterday that “Russia had won [in the recent fighting] because Israel had sent to Georgia poor officers, including General Hirsh” (www.jewish.ru/israel/hot/2008/08/news994266065.php).