Putin’s Bizarro World: Simultaneously Defending and Attacking Jews

by Bob Schwartz

Babi Yar Momument Kiev
In the last few days, Vladimir Putin has represented himself as the enemy of anti-Semitism and therefore the friend of Jews. He says, with a selective bit of truth, that among the many constituencies who deposed former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych were ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis who are themselves anti-Semitic. By this logic, Putin claims that his intervention in Ukraine is in part to restore Yanukovych and deny power to those anti-Semites.

In those same last few days, synagogues in the Ukraine have been vandalized and attacked, according to Russia by those same ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. Few believe that. Instead it is widely believed that Russia is responsible for this anti-Semitic mischief, which conveniently fits the Russian story line.

Jews have had a tough time in Europe, in Eastern Europe, in Russia, and certainly in Ukraine. In September 1941, about 33,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in Kiev, and along with tens of thousands of others, massacred in a ravine known as Babi Yar. Say what you will about the execrable, pathological and murderous Hitler, he knew how to play the strategic blame game. He regularly blamed the Jews for just about everything, but he rarely blamed someone else for hating and attacking the Jews. That was something he wanted full credit for.

So the suggestion for Putin is this: leave the Jews out of this particular rationale. The Jewish community in Ukraine is small, and it is true that in the just-evolving democratic regime, Jews will be uncomfortably standing side-by-side with people who don’t like them. Democracy makes for strange bedfellows, or at least that’s the lesson in America. Jews have enough problems without Putin as their friend and defender. Because with friends like that…