How Lenin’s Great-Grandfather Shaped Tsarist Jewish Policies

Perhaps the most influential anti-Semitic text in 19th-century Russia was The Book of the Kahal—a precursor to, and major influence on, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Its author, Yakov Brafman (1825-1879), was a Jewish convert to Christianity. And he was not the only Russian Jewish convert to use his status to defame his people before an all-too-credulous Russian audience. In fact, the tsar’s secret police kept careful lists of converts who could serve as informers. Among them was Dmitry Ivanovich (né Moshe Itzkovich) Blank, who has the added distinction of being the great-grandfather of Vladimir Lenin. Hadassah Assouline writes:

We know of at least two episodes in which Moshe Blank . . . quarreled with a fellow townsman and members of the community of Starokonsantinov [now in western Ukraine]. In 1809, after a string of earlier disagreements, the Jewish community accused him of setting fire to the town. A trial acquitted Blank, but he left the community and moved to [the nearby city of] Zhitomir, where he continued his retaliation against members of his former community in a letter of complaint that he sent to Tsar Alexander I. This letter, which predates the one below, never reached the tsar but remained with the local authorities in Zhitomir.

Blank also became embroiled in disputes with the local Jews of Zhitomir and following legal proceedings he lost most of his vast property, including a local brick factory. The episode stretched from 1838 to 1844, and immediately afterward Blank converted. . . .

Unlike other letters from informants in the [secret-police] files, Blank’s does not inform on a particular person or on members or leaders of a particular community, but on the Jews of Russia in general, and his missive had consequences for Russian Jewry for years to come. . . .

Two days after the head of the [secret police read Blank’s 1845 letter to Tsar Nicholas I describing systemic Jewish perfidy], he presented the tsar with a report about the letter. . . . In the report, the head of the department noted all of Blank’s accusations against the Jews and suggested adopting a series of measures in the spirit of Blank’s letter. . . . In August 1846, Blank wrote another document, again in Yiddish, “about various methods of converting the Jews.” This document was sent to the Ministry of the Interior, which passed it on, by order of the tsar, to the Committee for Jewish Affairs. . . .

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More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Lenin, 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