In America and Israel, the Story of Soviet Jewry Is Being Rapidly Forgotten

In 2016, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov produced a documentary about the daring 1970 escape attempt—in which her parents were key players—that kicked off the refusenik movement in the Soviet Union and, just as importantly, the mass-movement among American Jews to help their coreligionists behind the Iron Curtain. To her great surprise, Zalmanson-Kuznetsov discovered during screenings of her film and other public events that few Israeli or American Jewish teenagers had any knowledge of the refuseniks or their plight. Izabella Tabarovsky comments:

Part of the problem . . . is most certainly a failure to make the story of Soviet Jewry relevant to new generations of Jews, who have an obvious need for a story of an extraordinary rebirth of Jewish identity in a part of the Diaspora that many had assumed was destined for cultural and spiritual annihilation. Behind the heroic grand narrative of a resistance struggle in a country that no longer exists on maps is a story about the why and how of the process of Jewish rediscovery which is both inherently powerful and also worthy of present-day re-exploration and transmission.

While American teenagers today might find it difficult to relate to a story of the harassment of activist Jews by Soviet state police and imprisonment in the gulag, for each refusenik who experienced those ghastly hardships there were dozens whose drama was seemingly more prosaic yet more relatable. Kicked out of their jobs and familiar social circles, pushed to the margins of society, stuck in refusal for years and even decades, these largely assimilated Jews had to reinvent their lives in their newly narrowed circumstances.

What is so compelling about the refuseniks’ story today is that so many of them chose to define themselves by delving into their Jewish identities and finding sources of strength, motivation, and optimism there. From friends of friends, they dug out the addresses of old men who had the secret knowledge of the Torah. They studied with them, then in turn taught others. Under the guise of camping, they organized expeditions to Holocaust mass graves and ḥasidic sites and reported to others on what they saw.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Refuseniks, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security