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Zionism: a Model for the Russians?

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FOR decades, the official Russian mass media have portrayed Jews as traitors, swindlers, and loafers. Atheistic propaganda singled out Judaism as the most hateful religion in the world. Zionism was presented as a version of Nazism, and Israel was likened to Hitler's Germany.

Poll results consistently showed that most Russians accepted the official anti-Semitic propaganda, which tapped into Russia's deeply rooted xenophobic traditions. Even now, despite the radical changes in Russia in recent years, fully one-third of Russians harbor some animosity toward Jews and Israel.

Given this history, recent developments in Moscow are remarkable: Writers are presenting Zionism and Israel as models for the Russian people.

Consider a recent article in Komsomol'skaia Pravda entitled, "About the New Russian Idea." The "Russian idea" has been associated with Russian world superiority, rabid anti-Semitism, and vitriolic xenophobia. Yet Alexander Vasiliev, the article's author, adopts the opposite position. He calls on his compatriots to revise the Russian idea in ways that reflect the Jewish experience.

What would push a Russian journalist to act as troubadour for Zionism and Israel? Why did he insist that true Russian patriots should study the history of the Jewish people? The answer is simple: the collapse of the Soviet empire and the subsequent creation of a new Russian diaspora. Twenty-five million Russians find themselves in states where they are a minority, and are discriminated against as such.

Mr. Vasiliev compares the gradually increasing persecution of Russians outside Russia with that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Alluding to the well-educated Baltic people who now discriminate against ethnic Russians, Vasiliev suggests that no one, no matter what their cultural or educational background, is free from hostility to aliens who speak another language and try to preserve their own culture. Vasiliev also reminds his readers that the history of Jews and other peoples teaches us that no international b ody, including the United Nations, can help a minority in its darkest hour. Brazenly expropriating the language of contemporary Russian chauvinists, Vasiliev declares that only "we" can save "us."


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