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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.

Read more at Commentary

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen