A Great Historian of Russia on the Soviet Jewish Plight

Richard Pipes, one of America’s foremost historians of Russia and the Soviet Union, died yesterday at the age of ninety-four. In a book review he contributed to Commentary in 1989, when glasnost and the release of substantial numbers of Soviet Jews had made possible new and better-informed histories of Soviet Jewry, he presented a characteristically incisive summation of the situation of Jews under the Communist regime:

[A]lthough they protected Jews from violence and declared overt anti-Semitism a crime, the Communists espoused a program that promised slow death for Jews as a religious community and a nation. Measures outlawing private trade and manufacture, passed in the early years of the Soviet regime, undercut the economic base of Jewish life, creating millions of unemployed. The regime’s anti-religious policies affected Jews no less than Christians: as early as 1919, synagogues and other religious buildings were made liable to confiscation. Hebrew was declared a foreign language and Zionism a subversive doctrine.

In the 1920’s, especially during the relatively benign period of the New Economic Policy, Jews managed to circumvent many of the prohibitions on their economic and cultural activities. But all this came to an end in 1929 when Stalin undertook in earnest to realize Lenin’s revolutionary agenda. . . . By the time he entered into his alliance with Hitler in 1939, Stalin had restored many of the tsarist discriminatory laws, setting quotas on access to educational and bureaucratic opportunities and closing altogether the more sensitive positions. He meant to go farther. In 1942, as Germany’s armies were deep on their murderous mission in the Soviet Union, Hitler confided to his associates that Stalin had promised Ribbentrop “he would oust the Jews from leading positions the moment he had sufficient qualified Gentiles with whom to replace them.” . . .

In the decades since Stalin’s death his successors have done away with the most egregious manifestations of persecution, but discrimination against Jews remains in place. There are no Jews in the Politburo and hardly any in the upper echelons of the military. Strict quotas are imposed on admissions to institutions of higher learning. [Mikhail] Gorbachev’s reforms, which have eased Soviet discriminatory policies, have also allowed the emergence of overtly anti-Semitic movements, of which Pamyat [“memory”] is the most notorious. . . .

Hence very many Russian Jews see no future for themselves and their children, and if given a chance would emigrate. Recent Israeli estimates are that a continuation of Gorbachev’s liberalized emigration policy might lead to the exodus of at least 500,000 Jews. A community that a century ago was not only the largest in the world but also culturally the most vibrant has been destroyed by a regime that many Jews in and out of Russia once regarded as a beacon of hope.

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More about: History & Ideas, Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat