The Soviet Union Is Gone, but Its Anti-Zionist Campaign Lives On

January 23, 2023 | Izabella Tabarovsky
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The speedy defeat of Soviet-backed Syrian and Egyptian forces by the U.S.-aligned state of Israel in 1967 led the Kremlin to encourage its various propaganda arms to focus more intently on anti-Zionism. Izabella Tabarovsky describes this turn, and its long-lasting effects:

On February 1, 1972, the Central Committee of the Communist party of the Soviet Union issued a directive “on further measures to fight anti-Soviet and anti-Communist activities of international Zionism.” The social-sciences section of the Soviet Academy of Sciences soon established a permanent commission for the coordination of “scientific criticism of Zionism,” to be housed at the academy’s prestigious Institute of Oriental Studies (IOS). Over the next fifteen years, the IOS would serve as an important partner in the state’s fight against the imaginary global Zionist conspiracy that Soviet security services believed was sabotaging the USSR in the international arena and at home. In 1982, the IOS would grant [a doctorate] to one Mahmoud Abbas, upon the defense of his thesis The Relationship Between Zionists and Nazis, 1933-1945.

The IOS—now part of the Russian Academy of Sciences—keeps the dissertation under lock and key, and the closest item available to researchers is a nineteen-page Russian-language abstract. From this document, it is clear that the dissertation consists of familiar lies, half-truths, and distortions about imagined Nazi-Zionist collaboration, with a sprinkle of Holocaust denial thrown in—mostly borrowed from the USSR’s “Zionologists.” Tabarovsky writes:

Fabrications about Israel and Zionism that the KGB concocted with the help of the Arabists and Zionologists in the academy had real-life consequences that [are still felt] today. Having washed through the academy the hoax about the Mossad smuggling Jews into Palestine in the 1930s, [it didn’t exist at the time], the KGB could claim that the Mossad was also behind Soviet Jews’ demand for emigration in the 1970s and 1980s. Jewish activists like Natan Sharansky could be portrayed as foreign intelligence assets—an accusation that carried a death sentence. The Soviet academy’s “scientific anti-Zionism” project facilitated and promoted state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Abbas’s dissertation was part of that game.

Today, portions of the American academy, led by Middle East studies departments, are falling prey to remarkably similar ideological tendencies. Anti-Israel boycotts, often expressed in recognizably Soviet language, have become normalized on American campuses. . . . Mahmoud Abbas’s dissertation may be hidden away in IOS’s special storage facility, but the old Soviet fakes on which it was based continue to circulate widely among Middle Eastern audiences.

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