A Novel about Three Generations of Jews Caught up in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia

Sana Krasikov’s The Patriots begins with the story of Florence, an American Jew who, as a starry-eyed young woman committed to the workers’ revolution, leaves Brooklyn in 1934 for the Soviet Union. By the time it becomes clear that the Soviet Union isn’t the utopia-in-the-making she expected, the authorities forbid her from leaving. Florence loses her husband in one of Stalin’s purges, does a stint in the Gulag, and, decades later, returns to America with her son in an early Soviet-Jewish exodus. Krasikov eventually has Florence’s son and grandson end up in Putin-era Russia where they get swept up in a new sort of madness. In his review, A.E. Smith points to the historical realities at the book’s heart:

The irony implicit in The Patriots is that while many Jews embraced the Russian revolutionary cause from the very beginning—four of the seven members of the first Bolshevik Politburo were Jews—the revolution did not embrace them for long. For Russian Jews, the revolution represented liberation from centuries of tsarist oppression. For diaspora Jews such as Florence and her husband, it held out the promise of a just society in which all people—workers and peasants, Jews and Gentiles—would at last be equal. What they didn’t reckon with was the deep vein of anti-Semitism undergirding Russian culture and Russian history. It wasn’t excised in the great changes that birthed the USSR, merely disguised, and not particularly well. . . .

Krasikov’s meditation on patriotism and belonging, on compromise and guilt, echoes the great Russian voices—Vasily Grossman, Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—who chronicled their almost unimaginable times, but who are now largely forgotten. . . .

The Patriots could easily have been a polemic. Instead, Krasikov chooses to evoke the unutterable sadness of the last century of Russian history, so intimately bound up with Jewish history. Krasikov’s Russia, a country she clearly knows well and loves deeply, has survived revolution, war, Stalin, and the leaden stagnation of the Brezhnev years, only to find itself run by an interchangeable cast of gangsters, grifters, and, once again, secret policemen.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish literature, Russia, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times