In 1943, the Kremlin sent the lawyer-turned-actor Solomon Mikhoels, in his position as chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, to the U.S. to raise support, and money, for the Soviet war effort. Mikhoels was chosen for the job because he was a Jewish celebrity, the lead actor and artistic director of the state-sponsored Yiddish theater in Moscow, and also a Yiddish film star. Five years later, he was shot dead by the precursor to the KGB. Many other members of the Anti-Fascist Committee were eventually executed as well, along with other major figures of Jewish literary life. They were, as Dara Horn puts it in her recounting of Mikhoels’s remarkable story, “disposable Jews” who had served the regime’s purposes and were no longer necessary. (Audio, 54 minutes.)
How the Soviet Union Created the Greatest Yiddish Repertory Theater, Used Its Director for Propaganda, and Then Murdered Him
How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign
In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:
In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.
While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.