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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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

 

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy