The Kishinev Pogrom, Jewish Passivity, and Jewish Self-Defense

April 9 2018

On April 6, 1903—Easter Sunday—one of history’s most notorious pogroms began in the Russian city of Kishinev, now Chișinău, capital of the Republic of Moldova. The violence, which started in earnest in the evening and culminated the next day, left some 47 Jews dead, hundreds injured, and many hundreds of homes and shops looted and destroyed. In an excerpt from his new book, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History, Steven Zipperstein addresses the thorny subject of how the city’s Jews reacted:

“Jews did not fight for their lives, but fled to wherever they could.” This was in the testimony of Melekh Kaufman, as told to [the poet] Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik. Such accusations would soon be seen—and in no small measure because of how Bialik built the charge into the heart of “In the City of Slaughter,” his famous poem [on the subject]—as an assault on little less than thousands of years of Jewish history. Kishinev was said to have cut wide open a web of wretched, cowardly compromises stretching as far back as the last of the Maccabees, a welter of congealed terrors cleverly disguised that had over the centuries made Jews into who they now were: an overly cautious people who knew well how to negotiate but were incapable of fighting for their own lives or, for that matter, defending the honor of their kinfolk. . . .

Curiously enough, however, Bialik recorded in the transcripts of the interviews [with pogrom survivors] he conducted during his Kishinev stay, often in copious detail, many efforts at Jewish self-defense, including one so notorious—in the minds of local anti-Semites and their sympathizers, at least—that they would credit it, and not their own actions, as the main cause for [the] violence.

When rioters broke into the shop of Mordechai ben Aaron Litvak, he and his family told them that they would be shot if they did not leave immediately, which they did. Jews elsewhere fought with kitchen knives and clubs until, as often as not, they were overwhelmed by the sheer number or physical strength of the attackers. Trying to protect his father in their house on that Monday morning, Mordechai Tsvi Lis found himself pinned down by rioters who pushed against a door. Then, amid calls of “Christ has risen!,” the mob jumped both father and son, beating both senseless. When fifty-seven-year-old Yeḥiel Kiserman fought off four attackers, throwing several of them to the ground, a rumor rapidly spread that a Jew had murdered Christians. This news further enraged the mobs, which now attacked with heightened fury. . . .

Hence, after the pogrom’s end, alongside talk of Jewish passivity were fierce denunciations of Jewish anti-Russian aggression. In arguments made by defense attorneys at the trials of pogrom-related crimes, Sunday’s rioting was dismissed as a ruckus that would quickly have come to an end—much as the governor-general assured the Jewish delegation on Monday morning—had Jews not overreacted. In this version, it was the all-but-unprovoked aggression of Jews and subsequent rumors of attacks on a church and the killing of a priest that set in motion the unfortunate but, under the circumstances, understandable violence. . . .

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, History & Ideas, Pogroms, Russian Jewry

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians