11/11/2023, 19.54
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Israel, the Jews and the 'real Russians'

by Stefano Caprio

Hostility towards the West tickles the aggressive side of the Russian character, and most Russians take the bait of provocation, especially if Jews are involved. But the paradox is that Russia, because of its history and culture, is inextricably linked to the destiny of the Jewish people, as shown by a musical parody on the net.

Russians’ relationship with Israel reflects the vagaries of international politics resulting from the ongoing conflict in Gaza with Hamas, but this cannot hide the real aspect of a crucial questioning of the very identity of the Russian people.

Support for the Palestinian cause, which is clear in Russia’s Muslim Caucasus region but more ambiguous in the Kremlin, intersects with a historical and spiritual closeness between Russians and Jews, which reflects more clearly the contradiction of a Russia that claims to be turning eastward when in fact it is far more rooted than ever in the much-reviled West.

Israel is an important Russian-speaking country, the result of waves of migration that began after the Second World War and continued with the end of the Soviet Union, but Russia remains inextricably linked to the destinies of the Jewish people, not only for prophetic-spiritual similarities, but very much for the ties of blood and culture that run through the ancient and recent history of the people itself.

This mirrors the situation created by the invasion of Ukraine, a clash based over a shared identity, with the Russian character ambivalently defined as “Eurasian”.

To underline this paradox, a parody by the Russian-Jewish actor and writer Semyon Slepakov, a former star of Russian television, who emigrated to Israel some time ago, has gone viral on the internet.

Paraphrasing the propaganda song by the young Shaman, Ya russkiy (I am Russian!), the stand-up comedian proposed his own negative, Jewish version, Nie russkiy (I am not Russian!), in which the Jewish diversity with respect to the Russian identity is highlighted, ending up redefining Russianness through the filter of Judaism.

Ya russkiy, which has become almost a new national anthem during the Ukraine war, shows the blond hero, Shaman boldly, proclaiming that I breathe this air / the sun from the sky looks at me / the wind of freedom blows over me / that it is just like me, walking on the wheat field in a white shirt, under a flight of eagles.

In his version, Slepakov picks up a guitar sitting with a friend at the kitchen table, with a noticeable red kippah on his head, and depicts a decidedly different scenario: I put on my hood for the frost / and eat kosher food / and when I cross the street, even at night / I move with the green.

Shaman pretends to evoke the epic figures of the bilynas, the ancient Russian fairy tales, with the intrepid leaders who cross the fields and dominate the luxuriant nature, while the image of the Jews locked in the room, plotting against honest and hardworking men, is reminiscent of all the guilt born by the people of Europe, to cleanse their conscience of their own ineptitudes.

Yet, as every Russian knows, the daily life of those who live in cold countries takes place mainly around the kitchen table, warming themselves with hot tea and high-alcohol drinks: it is not the Jew who hides, but the Russian who cannot get out of himself.

The success of agricultural work – something typically Ukrainian – is always rather uncertain on Russian lands, as evinced in the country’s great literature, from Gogol to modern "back-to-earth" writers, even if President Putin himself has boasted on several occasions, in recent days, of the extraordinary results of Russian harvests and grain trade, in a "country that flourishes against everything and everyone",  the likely slogan of the election campaign that will be played non-stop until next spring.

Russian agriculture has indeed experienced great growth in recent years, but Putin has neglected to point out that this has happened thanks to Western machinery and technologies, which will soon be very difficult to maintain and renew; and the earnings from the sale of Russian grains are based on countering the export of Ukrainian grains, one of the main cornerstones of Moscow's war strategy.

Slepakov, on the other hand, "eats kosher food", has no illusions that he can enjoy an illusory and sinful abundance, and "goes green even at night", respecting rules that the Russians boast of ignoring, destroying the boundaries and limits of every convention.

Shaman adds that "I just want to love and breathe / I don't need anything else / I am the way I am, and nothing can destroy me / and that's because I AM RUSSIAN! / And I'm going all the way / I'm Russian! / And my blood is my father's."

Light-heartedness, boldness and audacity are Putin's masks, which no one in Russia can really take seriously, knowing full well that the "father's blood" is anything but pure and crystalline, mixing genetic codes of all kinds, and Russian history shows precisely the inability to "go all the way" towards one's aspirations.

So the Jew more realistically states that I keep money in the bank / I don't drink every day / and I always need something / once a year I check myself at the doctor / and that's because I'm NOT Russian! / I don't care about my father's blood – (Jews, as is well known, practise matrilineal descent) – I am missing a piece for everything / and nothing ever goes as it should / I am universal evil, because I am not Russian!

If all evil is always blamed on the Jews, it is quite clear that the praise of the "main enemy of humanity" today is in the hands of Putin's Russia.

The self-celebration of Russian hypocrisy proclaims that I am Russian / and for this I am lucky / I am Russian / in the face of the whole world! / This song flies in the sky / And my heart is on fire / Lighting the way home / That's the way I am, you won't break me / 'Cause I'm Russian!

Shaman's song "flies in the sky" of all the propaganda screens and mass gatherings, but Slepakov's parody points out that This song comes out on Spotify / and the money arrives in the account / It would be enough, but the heart / tells me: give me more / everything spiritual is foreign to me / and only because I am not Russian!

In fact, the great fiction concerns the "nobility of the aims" of Russia’s war, meant to defend "moral and religious values", so foreign to the daily life of the people of the Federation.

Relations between Russia and Israel have never been idyllic since the Soviet years, not least because of Moscow's political alignment with Israel's main enemies, Syria, Iran and others.

The conflict with the terrorists of Hamas, whose representatives were welcomed in Moscow shortly after the massacre of 7 October, brings to the fore the deep anti-Semitism not only in Russia’s Muslim regions, but also among Russians themselves, which already showed itself in the paradoxical slur thrown at Ukrainians of being “Judeo-Nazi”, a very revealing way of what lurks in the conscience of Putin and his acolytes.

Hostility towards the West tickles the aggressive side of the Russian character, and most Russians take the bait of provocation, especially if Jews are involved.

Israel knows these inner complexes of the Russian soul very well, largely because of blood ties and shared history; it is no coincidence that Netanyahu's government has been very cautious in its support for Ukraine, to whom it has not sent weapons nor shared war technologies.

As much as Russia may support Hamas, as it has supported the Palestinians in the past, even in acts of terrorism, in Jerusalem they know that this support will never be decisive, but it is limited to a global rhetoric of blaming the United States and the West, through Israel like with Ukraine, for all the ills of the world geopolitical order.

Russia "only needs chaos," as Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert at the Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, bitterly observes, "and the escalation of conflicts is its only strategy."

Shaman's song repeats that the Russian "goes all the way," but Slepakov reveals that in reality "his heart says: give me more," because the "real Russian" is never sure of his true identity, and cannot admit that the Americans, the Europeans, and especially the Jews, are ineradicable aspects of the Russian soul.


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