Anti-Semitic tirade on western pro-Kremlin site betrays ignorance of Russia

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Anti-Semitic tirade on western pro-Kremlin site betrays ignorance of Russia
An outrageous anti-Semitic tirade on an American ‘pro-Russia’ blog-site proves that the inability to properly understand Russia often extends to westerners who think they are ‘supporting’ the country.

Since its inception, there have been numerous reasons to laugh at ‘Russia Insider’ (henceforth RI). There’s the way it brazenly steals content from professional news outlets and repackages it, with a twist. Not to mention the pseudo-messianic zeal of its founders, displayed in its initial fundraising videos. But it’s definitely not funny anymore.

In the beginning, RI seemed semi-promising, and many gave it the benefit of the doubt. Because, given the Putin-derangement virus which has infected western media, there are very few outlets these days for journalists and commentators willing to be balanced in their coverage of Russia. Indeed, those perceived as “Russia versteher” (even if that usually means simply realistic and honest in their coverage) are more-or-less blacklisted in the mainstream press. Something I have first-hand experience of.

Thus, writers who disengaged from RI after the very early days bear no responsibility for what it has evolved into a few years later. Which is quite clearly an alt-right website, opportunistically surfing the wave of post-Donald Trump ‘legitimacy’ granted to this questionable ideology. Except it still purports to have a Russian twist. And many, poorly-informed, observers fail to understand how it’s not associated with the country in any official way.

RI, as is clear from its own contact page, is an American entity based in Greenwich, Connecticut. This is despite incorrect assertions by Tablet Magazine and the EU’s supposed fact-checking “myth-bustersStratCom East, who have labelled it Russian.

Misguided Mission

As a result, we have a situation where a bunch of westerners are harming Russia by using the country’s name to promote an agenda which isn’t part of Russian discourse. And this is a phenomenon displayed in the behaviour of many zealots, who ‘support’ Russia as keyboard-warrior crusaders but don’t understand the place at all, in reality.

Instead, they are projecting their own issues with their homelands onto this country and its leaders. For instance, American and European far-rightists think that because Vladimir Putin has restored Russia as a strong and sovereign state, he’s somehow aligned with their beliefs. And is on some kind of mission from God to save ‘white’ Christianity.

But, he’s not. Because Russia may well be the most ethnically and religiously diverse country in Europe. And Putin’s own cabinets have included a smorgasbord of Jews, Muslims and Buddhists in addition to the Christians and Agnostics who form the largest Russian ‘belief’ categories.

Sure, Putin has restored the prominence of the Orthodox faith and identifies as a believer himself. But that’s a cultural thing, rooted in hundreds of years of Russian history. And he’s not attempting to restore the official state religion of the Tsarist period. Nor has he publically considered banning abortion or outlawing homosexual relations, measures the church has frequently called for.

Instead, the Russian President has personally attended the opening of Russia’s largest mosque, in Moscow, and has been described in a Reuters article as “the closest thing Israel has ever had to a friend in Moscow.” While Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, saysPutin is on our side.” He even told the Limmud FSU how “Putin was the first president to publicly speak out against anti-Semitism and did the most for the Jews. There is no institutional anti-Semitism in Russia. The attitude toward the Jews in Russia is excellent."

Different Folks

Because here’s the truth. Russia is a very complex country, by any standards. In the south-west, Cossacks and Armenians live side-by-side and, closer to the Caspian sea, many republics are majority Muslim. East of Lake Baikal, Shamans can be found and further towards the Pacific Ocean, Koreans form a large community. Also, according to the World Jewish Congress, Moscow and Saint Petersburg alone have around 300,000 Jewish residents, which is not far off the rates for Britain and France as a whole, and doesn’t include other regions of Russia. 

Polling data also backs up the notion of Russia as secular society. Just this week the independent Levada Centre showed how there is very little hostility to any religion in Russia. When asked about “very negative feelings” just 4 percent ascribed them to Jews, compared with 3 percent towards Buddhists and also 4 percent towards Muslims. Interestingly, only 45 percent were “very positive” regarding Christians, whereas, in total, 44 percent were positive towards Jews, with just 10 percent harboring any form of negative attitude (8 percent for Buddhists, 14 percent for Muslims). Meanwhile, 36 percent didn’t care.

That’s why the anti-Semitic rantings of RI’s editor Charles Bausman are so tragic and betray his utter ignorance of a country where he once lived.

Starting from the premise “It’s Time to Drop the Jew Taboo,” he slanders the likes of Masha Gessen, Anne Applebaum, and Julia Ioffe plus David Remnick, David Frum, Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer by dint of their heritage. He also attacks Edward Lucas for having an allegedly Jewish grand-uncle, as if that were relevant in any way. Because, once again, Bausman is projecting his own western-centric prejudices onto Russia. And, let’s be clear, Bausman’s hang-ups are all about his attitude to America and do not represent what Russians think or feel.

Anyway, rather than dwelling further on Bausman’s appalling spiel, I’d rather think of figures such as the scientist Vitaly Ginzburg, the poet Osip Mandelstam, the novelist Boris Pasternak and the Chess master Alexander Khalifman. Not to mention contemporary public figures of Jewish descent like Vladimir Pozner, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Anzhelika Varum and Alexander Gordon. Who all add to the gaiety of the nation and do Russia some service. In contrast to Russia Insider’s pathetic attempt to hijack and attach Russian identity to its scandalous anti-Semitic slime.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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