These days, Jerusalem could compete with Davos and Bilderberg. Most distinguished, high and mighty gentlemen have met here, at the Auschwitz Forum in Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center: kings, presidents, prime ministers; a living proof the Jews have some pull in the world.
The British Court of St James was represented by Prince Charles; France – by President Macron; the mighty US of A sent VP Pence, this supreme achievement of AI (he looks almost human, though not quite). There was also the Governor General of Australia, President of Austria, President of Albania, President of Argentina, President of Armenia, King of Belgium, President of Bulgaria, President of Hungary, Prince of Wales, President of Germany, President of Greece, President of Turkey, President of Denmark, President of Iceland, King of Spain, President of Italy, Governor General of Canada, President of Cyprus, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, President of Northern Macedonia, President of Moldova, King of the Netherlands, Crown Prince of Norway, President of Romania, President of Serbia, Vice President of the United States, the president of Finland, the French president, the Montenegrin President, Prime Minister of Sweden, President of the European Council, President of the European Parliament, European Commission President …
Their hosts used the occasion to the utmost. Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli Interim PM, compared Iran with Nazi Germany and said that destruction of Iran today equals the liberation of Auschwitz then. The Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, said there is no difference between anti-Semites and anti-Zionists; whoever is an enemy of Israel is the enemy of all Jewish people, very simple.
However, judging by Israeli media attention, there was really just one prominent guest, President Vladimir Putin. While he was in Jerusalem – less than one day – all the limelight was his; all other kings and rulers faded into the background. The power this man has, his grip on public mind and imagination, his charisma -is quite unprecedented. He was treated as an Emperor on pilgrimage, like Kaiser Wilhelm on his 1898 visit to this Middle Eastern town.
Putin knew why he came, and he stayed focused on the topic. His principal theme: Russia saved the Jews 75 years ago and she has earned the support of today’s Jews, especially when you compare her history with that of her neighbours. In his speech, he stressed that very few Jews survived in Poland, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania, for the locals did their utmost to catch and kill every Jew who managed to slip out of the German vice. It is not a coincidence that the presidents of the three neighbouring states, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland didn’t come at all; the Ukrainian president Mr Zelensky did come, but stayed away from the forum.
In modern Ukraine there is a widespread cult of Stephan Bandera, the Ukrainian Quisling, adept of Hitler and the leader of brutal gangs (OUN-UPA). They murdered Jews, Poles, Russians and politically untrustworthy Ukrainians. Recently the CIA was forced by law to reveal its documents about the man, and so they did. You can read the original reports here; they describe him as a Nazi spy and a mass murderer. The Banderites were suppressed by Stalin’s KGB, but the gangsters were soon allowed to return to normal life for there was a general feeling that the insurgency was over.
Yet in the post-2014 Ukraine, there are now streets in Kiev and other cities dedicated to his name; his pictures embellish government buildings, and modern Banderites are now a strong fighting force both in Eastern Ukraine against Donbas separatists and elsewhere against Russian-language-speakers. They are even hostile to the recently-elected President Zelensky, considering him too soft by half. Zelensky does not dare to confront them. That is why he avoids the Babi Yar massacre site near Kiev, and why he stayed away from the forum in Jerusalem; his mere presence is enough to enflame the Banderites.
I was asked by a reader, shouldn’t Poles, Ukrainians and Russians sort out their historical issues before tackling the problems of today? In general, I do not think so. I think that the past is the past, and history will take care of itself. Today’s issues must be solved today. If Ukraine and Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia were to curtail their anti-Russian policies in conjunction with NATO and the US Deep State, Russia would gladly set aside the crimes of their fathers. But if the governments of these four countries continue to carry on with their hostile politics towards Russia, Russia will be forced to ally with the Jewish power against these heirs of Nazi henchmen.
Putin had been treated in Jerusalem as the beloved son and clear favourite of Netanyahu and people in general. Just opposite the Knesset (Parliament), they erected a monument to the Jewish victims of the Leningrad siege, and Putin was asked to inaugurate it. Netanyahu was there, and survivors, and musicians from Russia, too. It was a big and impressive event, one of the biggest of this event-crowded day.
I personally find it of bad taste to commemorate the Jews separately from all the other fallen people of Leningrad. One of my uncles was killed in 1942 at the defence of the city on the Black River, but he fought and died together with his Russian comrades. Jews seem to have great difficulty empathizing with non-Jews; they always demand separate memorials, and Putin couldn’t force them to do things differently.
Putin was very cautious – he did not say a word about Iran. Russia is a friend of Iran; Russian and Iranian navies performed joint naval exercises quite recently. Putin was silent about the alleged plague of anti-Semitism of recent days. Straight after the Forum, he went to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem for a meeting with Mahmud Abbas, the president of Palestine. Russians are engaged in the reconstruction of Star Street leading to Manger Square in front of Nativity Cathedral in the city.
Putin was the only one of the many Forum guests who balanced his visit to the Jews with a visit to the Palestinians. He also met with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, expressing his support for the native church of the Holy Land.
For some time, Putin has been increasingly disappointed with the Israelis. Israelis are very difficult people to deal with: whatever they get, they take as their due. They have no sense of gratitude, and no desire to repay any gestures from the other side. Putin did a lot for Israel and for Netanyahu personally – he returned to Israel the mortal remains of an Israeli soldier who had been killed in action in Lebanon many years before; he fulfilled many big and small requests of the Israeli PM. Not such big and impossible wishes like removing the Iranians from Syria or delivering the Messiah, but reasonable requests. Yet still he encountered the Jewish dislike of paying back.
By request of the US, a Russian programmer was detained in Israel in 2015. Despite Russian appeals, Israel refused to return the detainee, and quite recently they shipped him to the US, where this young man can expect many years of jail time, and possibly torture to force him to “confess” to interfering in the US elections. Russians were very upset with this Israeli decision, as well as with the Israeli shelling of Syria.
Then in April 2019 a young Israeli woman called Naama Issachar flew from Delhi to Tel Aviv via Moscow, and in Moscow airport the drug squad discovered hashish in her backpack. She was detained and sentenced to over seven years of imprisonment. In Russian terms, it is quite a heavy sentence for 10 gram of hashish, though in some countries she would be lucky to escape a death sentence.
Not surprisingly, Israel turned the Naama case into a tool against Putin and Russia. They said that Russians should release the woman because, you know, when Israel asks, nobody denies their request. Naama’s Russian lawyer, a convinced Putin hater, undermined efforts to swap the smuggler for the programmer. He told Naama’s family that she will be released in any case, and Naama’s mother explained that she rejects the swap because she does not want to help Putin. But Naama was not released.
Belatedly, the Israelis finally began to get the hint that Putin was annoyed with them. They decided to sort things out. There were many things Russia had complained about over many years, and the Israelis had always refused to comply:
- Much to Russia’s chagrin, Israeli immigration has a nasty habit of turning Russian visitors away at the Tel Aviv airport. Five thousand Russian visitors weren’t allowed to enter Israel last year.
- Russian church property has not been returned nor registered by Israeli authorities;
- A Russian monastery had its access cut off, and a tramline had been laid through its territory etc.
At last Israel has decided to fulfil some of these Russian requests. As I discovered, on December 30, 2019, they ruled to transfer one of the most precious holy sites, St Alexander Church, located next to the Holy Sepulchre, back to Russian ownership. This plot of land was bought by Tsar Alexander III in the middle of the 19th century. Excavations uncovered an ancient gate and a wall of Jerusalem from Christ’s days; it is probably the gate from which He exited the city as He was led to Golgotha. A narrow aperture in the wall could be the Needle’s Eye, the gate for a late pedestrian that a camel would find almost impossible to squeeze through. The Church had some accommodation for high-ranking guests, and Nicolas II apparently stayed there during his visit as the Crown Prince.
After 1918, the church remained in the hands of White Russian émigrés, and in 2004 it had been taken over by an adventurist Ukrainian Jew who claimed to be heir and descendent of Count Vorontsov. For many years, the Russian government demanded the transfer of the church to rightful Russian ownership, but Israeli authorities had steadfastly refused. Now Israel is cooperating on condition that within 60 days all other competing claims be presented. There is a good chance that in the beginning of March the church will be returned to the Church of Moscow.
Yet it could fail, too. The Israeli media recently demonstrated its power to whip their readership into a frenzy; concurrent reports about the Naama case almost completely displaced stories of the Holocaust Forum extravaganza. A foreign observer might imagine that all this great gathering occurred in order to save this daughter of Zion from Russian clutches. Putin was pushed to pardon the smuggler on the spot. He wisely avoided it; employing the standard Israeli response: “It will be okay”. Yet if Naama is released before the church is transferred, the Jews may be tempted to refuse the transfer. Israelis hate to give anything for free; it is a phobia, this fear to be labelled a sucker. It’s psychologically easier for them to trade a Russian church for an Israeli girl. But this misrepresentation also makes possible some last minute cheating.
Still, all things considered it seems that Israeli authorities have decided to mend relations with Russia. They took good care of Putin, and they prefer his version of history to the Polish and Ukrainian variants. They officially recognised the decisive role of the Red Army in destroying Nazi might and in breaking the gates of Auschwitz. By doing this they righted many of the wrongs against Russia, and clearly went against the US brief.
VP Pence did not mention that it was the Russian Red Army that liberated Auschwitz. He only spoke of American soldiers who indeed participated in the war (and who still occupy Europe – though he did not bring that up). US leaders habitually describe Stalin and Hitler as twin horrors, thus allowing Poland and Baltic states an easy way out. The new version established in Jerusalem is not only more correct and just; it is also a relief from the customary anti-Russian bias and a chance to postpone global nuclear war. Don’t forget, the Doomsday clock is still ticking down; it is now 100 seconds to midnight.
Dynamic Mr Putin
Putin is so different from his predecessors, from beefy Yeltsin and obsequious Gorbachev! He is lissom, agile, quick, friendly, totally devoid of pomposity and pretence. He is full of energy and quick to respond, but also able to keep his poker face and to maintain silence amid the uproar. That is the man we saw in Jerusalem. He met people and gave speeches and made decisions – more than a young man can. And he is not old yet, 67 as opposed to Trump’s 73 or Sanders 78. I think he will be able to work for many years more to come.
That is why I doubt the change in government last week is a sign of the approaching retirement of Mr Putin. To me, it is just a normal reshuffling of government. The new ministers are younger than the old ones. The new PM will continue his job of digitalising Russia, just as he recently digitalised the Internal Revenue. Russia is going through modernisation, and Putin needs younger comrades-at-arms. Some are very young: the new Minister of Culture’s healthy lack of reverence has already caused some butthurt among artists grown accustomed to Western grants. The most important positions – Foreign Office, Defence – remain in the old hands, and will assure continuity. Mr Putin will not retire any time soon, but he probably needs more people who understand his intentions and who are ready to fulfil the tasks.
It’s not like he has a choice. In the present situation, nobody can guarantee his well-being. The fate of Saddam and Gadhafi has to be fresh on his mind. And he seems to manage all right. He proved it during this short, overloaded Jerusalem visit.
P.S. Just at the time of Auschwitz forum, the Russian court took up the case of Dr Roman Yushkov. He was accused of Holocaust denial, and he won, for H denial is not a crime in Russia. Encouraged by his victory, Dr Yushkov sued the state for six million roubles for damages, and on January 21 the court gave him 50 thousand roubles as compensation. Russia is the freest country in the world, it seems. You can write to him at [email protected].
Israel Shamir can be reached at [email protected]
This article was first published at The Unz Review.