Anti-Russia hysteria – a new type of ‘normal’ xenophobia

In the previous article, we examined how, in the official 75th anniversary D-Day commemorations, the role of Russia in defeating Nazi Germany was completely ignored. This official snub of Russia, while disappointing, is not entirely unexpected. This behaviour on the part of the US and Britain is completely in line with the latest round of Russophobia, encapsulated in the purported ‘scandal’ of ‘Russiagate’.

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the American political elite – lead by Democratic party leaders and former members of the military/intelligence apparatus – have waged an unrelenting campaign to portray Trump’s election victory as a product of Russian meddling in the American electoral process.

The Mueller report, released to the public in April this year, examined the main allegations of the ‘Russian interference’ conspiracy theory – and found no evidence whatsoever that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian business and political entities. The Mueller report was a stinging rebuke to the proponents of the Russiagate conspiracy hoax, and Matt Taibbi stated that the ‘Russian interference’ trope is this generation’s equivalent of the WMD lie of the 2003 Iraq war.

This is not a defence of Donald Trump – even though the latter has been gloating about the ‘vindication’ of his administration offered by the Mueller report. While there is no Presidency-destroying conspiracy, there are many reasons to oppose Trump. His misogyny and enabling of white supremacy, his attacks on refugees and migrants, his policies that help billionaires accumulate wealth at the expense of working people – Trump is definitely no friend of the working class he claims to represent.

The allegation that the Trump campaign is a servant of the Kremlin derives from a long-standing practice in American politics – smearing your political enemies as puppets of a foreign power. The former Soviet Union was a convenient scapegoat – no need to listen to domestic critics, just slander them as dupes of the Communist Kremlin. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia – in particular under President Vladimir Putin – has assumed that role of foreign bogeyman.

Chris Hedges, writing in Truthdig magazine, notes that since the election of Vladimir Putin in Russia, replacing the Western-subservient (and frequently drunk) Boris Yeltsin, Russia has become more assertive on the world stage. Russia is no longer the economic basket-case that it was in the 1990s, but it is not an aggressive super-petro-state about to gobble up the entire world either. The US establishment now began to treat Russia with open hostility.

Russophobia was back in fashion, replacing the expressions of goodwill and friendship that marked relations between Moscow and Washington in the 1990s. Domestic criticism of Washington was yet again portrayed as subsidised and manipulated by the overarching activities of the Kremlin. Political opponents of the Democratic party, particularly those from the Left of the spectrum, were smeared as willing apologists of the nefarious Russians.

Russian Jews and the anti-Russia hysteria

One of the interesting consequences of the Russophobia of the American political and economic elites has been the impact of a group of formerly privileged white migrants – Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, as the Gorbachev premiership implemented its policy of glasnost (openness), Jews from the former USSR began emigrating in large numbers to the United States. The plight of Soviet Jews (if the stories are to be believed) became a major cause celebre in the West, and in particular in the United States.

Numerous American political figures, writers and cultural spokespeople advocated for the ‘liberation’ of Soviet Russian Jews, and lobbied the American government to open its doors to the refugees. One such prominent and educated Soviet Jewish figure, Natan Sharansky, became an emblematic example of the struggle by these ‘refuseniks’ to achieve their much desired liberation.

Sharansky, a mathematician by training, settled in Israel and has spent his political career as a rightwing advocate for Zionism and the suppression of the Palestinian people. But what of the thousands of other Russian Jews, who went to the United States, an allegedly altruistic nation extending a helping hand to those trapped by tyranny? For an answer to this question, let us look to Yasha Levin, a Soviet-born Jew who grew up in America.

Levin writes that as a fresh young immigrant, it was all too-easy to view America as the ‘land of opportunity’, where anyone could make it if they worked hard enough. Surely Russian Jews would be welcomed – had not the liberal establishment fought for them to leave the USSR? After all, Russian Jews occupied a special, privileged place at the apex of the migratory pyramid – they are white.

Not for them was the experience of xenophobic and racist attacks by a bigoted law enforcement establishment. They were not black, Hispanic or indigenous American. Of course settling into a new country was full of challenges and difficulties – every migrant group confronts problems as they adjust to a new culture, language, political and economic system. However, the Soviet Russian Jews surmounted difficulties – had not all the lobbyists and lawmakers in America advocated for them?

Occupying a special place in the official folklore of American immigration, Soviet Jews were upheld as an example of the willingness of the United States to welcome foreigners, particularly those immigrants who were seeking liberty. Here was a clear-cut case of American altruistic superiority winning out over Soviet cruelty. But all that began to change in the 2000s, and especially with the 2016 victory of Trump.

The Soviet Russian Jews find themselves in the crosshairs of the American ruling elite’s bigotry – a spot previously occupied by other ethnic and religious minorities. The Russians became the internal enemy, a potential fifth column working to subvert American liberalism.

The cloud of xenophobic suspicion is cast over the entire Russian community in the US – quite a change from the initial welcoming days. Russians are devious, treacherous and deceitful; as the American media helpfully and frequently reminds us, is not Putin himself a former KGB agent? The pall of conspiratorial suspicion casts a large shadow.

Blaming the country’s economic woes on the presence of groups of foreigners only serves to distract attention from the root causes of social and economic breakdown. The convenient excuse of ‘the Russians did it’ enables us to avoid examining our own failures, and indeed conditions the population for a possible future military confrontation with Russia. As Jacobin magazine’s staff writer Branko Marcetic says, it is time to end this national hallucination – close the gate on Russiagate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s