<h3>Israel as a Factor in Soviet Anti-Semitism
Jews, Marxism and the Worker's Movement

Umberto Terracini

Israel as a Factor in Soviet Anti-Semitism

First Published: Morning Freiheit, December 9, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The author of this article is one of the founders of the Communist Party of Italy and a Communist Senator of Italy. He was a friend of Lenin and a member of the Executive Committee of the now defunct Communist International. Senator Terracini’s article is taken from the 1984 collection of articles and important documents relating to anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union published by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith under the title, “Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union: Its Roots and Consequences,” edited with a preface by Theodore Freedman and a Foreword by Kenneth J. Bialkin.

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The title of my speech, “Israel as a Factor in Soviet Anti-Semitism,” is designed to draw attention to a basic element in the history of all states, namely, the interdependence of their foreign and internal policies. In the case in point, this concept can be applied by formulating the question of whether, and to what degree, the creation and existence of the State of Israel and its position on the international scene can be correlated with the revival and a sudden expansion of the anti-Semitic movement in the Soviet Union.

In my opinion there can be no doubt that the existence of Israel and its foreign policy are major causes of Soviet anti-Semitism. This, however, is not the fault of Israel. What has had, and continues to have, great influence over the foreign policies of all countries is the existence of two large opposing blocs characterized, among other things, by their differing institutional models and socioeconomic systems. One could, therefore, consider Soviet anti-Semitism as going beyond nationalism, although admittedly, the Soviet Union defines Jews as members of a nationally differentiated group for which the territory of Birobidjan was provided. And it is a violation of the Soviet Constitution to discriminate against any of the nationalities within the USSR’s borders.

The Jews did not wish to migrate to the territory assigned them (and not only because of the discomforts of the area due to its geographical location and harsh climate). They preferred their traditional homes despite the fact that they had never enjoyed the opportunity to organize their lives according to their own laws and customs.[1]

There is no doubt that they welcomed the creation of the State of Israel (to which their native country, the Soviet Union, had contributed significantly) as an act of justice and a great achievement for civilization. By the same token, for a long time they also appreciated the Soviet policy in favor of the Arab struggle for liberation for colonialism, in accordance with the October Revolution’s two basic strategic principles: the revolt of workers against class domination by the various national bourgeoisies, and the revolt of national groups against foreign imperialist domination.

I would like to note here that of these two driving forces of the socialist revolution, the latter has already fully achieved its objective. Colonial empires have fallen everywhere, and the capitalist system is now being assailed directly or indirectly wherever it is still in power in the great majority of states, old and new.


It is a fact, however, that the greater part of Soviet Jewry ignored the road leading toward Israel for many years, thereby proving that the bonds tying them to their native land were strong indeed.

But proceeding with my analysis, I wish to point out that anti-Semitism has been for centuries, hence long before the formation of the Soviet state, a basic characteristic of the peoples who comprise the USSR.[2] The Soviet government never really tried to eradicate it (except in the years immediately after the revolution). On the contrary, it has exploited this tendency time and again for the purpose of serving its internal or international policies. The lashing out against the Bund in prerevolutionary times is one example.[3] Even more obvious were the protracted conflicts which lacerated the Bolshevik leadership. The anti-Semitic aspects of these conflicts inevitably appeared because of the Jewish origins of many of the most well-known opposition figures (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek, Kamenev, etc.).[4] Stalin in particular played the trump card of anti-Semitism in those often tragic conflicts, as in the notorious Doctors’ Plot, wherein all the doctors turned out to be Jews.[5] Nor was anti-Semitism entirely extraneous to the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was concluded between the Soviet Union and Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

There is a complete absence of moral considerations in the Soviet Union’s foreign policy decisions, to the point of her sacrificing the very ideological principles she declares to profess. This is obvious today in her close relations with the Arab states of the Middle East, which after their liberation from colonial domination, established political institutions and economic systems having absolutely nothing to do with socialism. They are, in fact, autocratic; and their enormous wealth and resources, especially oil, belong exclusively to those who wield governmental power.

It is, therefore, not for ideological or socioeconomic reasons that the Soviet Union (or rather its rulers, since the common people have no way of interfering with the political decisions of their state) invariably sides with the Arab states against Israel in international affairs.[6] The Soviet choice is based essentially on military strategy, not to speak of the neo-imperialist imperatives inspired and nourished by the “great-power” politics of the Soviet Union.


In order to render the USSR’s pro-Arab policies acceptable to the Soviet people despite the many burdensome sacrifices necessitated by arms expenditures, the Soviet government tells its people that their country is seriously endangered by the existence of the State of Israel, which is supported by all the Jews of the world, and therefore also by those who live in the Soviet Union. Anti-Semitism, perhaps rebaptized as anti-Zionism, thus becomes a tool serving the nationalistic maneuvers with which the Soviet leaders convince their people to support their choice of the Arab states. This frantic anti-Semitic campaign came as the greatest surprise to the Soviet Jews themselves.

After World War II they sincerely believed that their participation in the war and in the victory over the Nazis had finally assured them full and equal rights under Soviet law. This was one reason why initially so few of them sought or planned to move to the new State of Israel. The latter held little power of attraction for them. Nor does it attract them today; many Soviet Jews change their destination and proceed to some Western country instead of Israel after they arrive in Vienna, and after having obtained their emigration visas at the cost of difficulties and risks.[7]


What leads them to abandon the Soviet Union, in fact, is not a desire to return to the ancient homeland of their forefathers, to Zion, but to escape an oppressive regime. State-sponsored anti-Semitism as an internal policy and a pro-Arab foreign policy are thus two inseparable aspects of Soviet policy as a whole. Considering the long-range character of all international politics, one can therefore foresee that Soviet anti-Semitism is also destined for a long life. But this implies the danger that at a certain point the Soviet Jews will turn to some imprudent course of action (hopefully nonviolent) out of a desire for self-protection, and I say this not because I fear that the Soviet leaders wish to find a pretext for a new “final solution” modeled on the Nazi example.

I do not share the pessimistic predictions expressed today by various speakers. The mass physical destruction of Jews does not at all fit into the logic of Soviet politics. Moreover, the Soviet Jews are well protected by the solidarity of all the Jews of the world. I am encouraged in this belief by the “soft” techniques with which anti-Semitic persecution is being implemented in the USSR. This persecution is not based on specific laws or the use of direct or immediate violence against individuals; it uses the means offered by the ordinary laws of the land, which are, moreover, not at all based on respect for the freedom of the individual citizen. As we know, it is extremely difficult for Soviet citizens to obtain a passport to go abroad, or even to get the compulsory one for use inside the country. It is sufficient for the Soviet leaders to enforce existing laws with particular severity to make the lives of its citizens intolerable.

Thus, thanks to the law against so-called parasites (i.e., persons with no regular means of employment), the authorities merely have to deprive a person of his job under the most absurd pretext (which is what happens to Jews as soon as they ask for a passport to Israel). He may then be accused of parasitism, placed on trial, and convicted.[8] Likewise, a gathering of several Jews in a private home is subject to punishment as a “nonauthorized assembly” (especially if the gathering is for purposes of praying together or for studying Hebrew), and voila! the trial and sentence find “legal” justification.[9]

The methodical repetition of these punitive measures against individuals makes the burden even harder to bear; these vexations lead to despair, despite their relative mildness.

I have passed, via a chain of ideas, from a discussion of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union to a discussion of a regime that is antilibertarian for all citizens. Only under such a regime is it possible to conceive of a policy of persecution against a religious group, professional category, or national minority. The causes and explanations offered are not important here. Persecution always offends the dignity of human beings and defiles the spiritual values which are the fruits of civilization and the heart and marrow of every person who considers himself free.

So while I express my solidarity with the Soviet Jews who are persecuted in their country merely because they are Jews, it is to the entire Soviet people that I would like to express my wishes for the achievement and enjoyment of complete freedom.


[1] J. Levavi (Babitsky), The Jewish Colonization in Birobidjan (in Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel, 1965), pp. 43-56; M. Altshuler, Soviet Jewry Today: A Socio-Demographic Analysis (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1972), p. 83.

[2] See S. Ettinger, “The Jews in Russia at the Outbreak of the Revolution,” in The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917, ed. L. Kochan, 3d ed. (Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 15-29; and S. Ettinger, Modem Anti-Semitism: Studies and Essays (in Heb.) (Tel Aviv, 1978), pp. 169-189.

[3] S. Schwartz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (Syracuse University Press, 1951), pp. 46-55.

[4] Ettinger, Modern Anti-Semitism, p. 181.

[5] B.D. Weinryb, “Anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia,” in The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917, ed. L. Kochan (Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 321-323.

[6] J.B. Schechtman, “The USSR, Zionism, and Israel,” in The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917, ed. L. Kochan (Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 128-130; J. Frankel, “The Anti-Zionist Press Campaigns in the USSR, 1969-1971: An Internal Dialogue?” in Soviet Jewish Affairs, 1972, no. 3, p. 5.

[7] Z. Alexander, “The Emigration Policy of the Soviet Union (1968-1978): Cause and Statistical Data,” in Behinot: Studies on Jews in the USSR and Eastern Europe (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Center for Research of Eastern European Jewry, 1979), nos. 8-9, p. 35.

[8] For example, regarding the prosecution and conviction of Y. Begun as a parasite, see Dr. J.E. Singer, The Case of Yosef Begun, Analysis and Documents (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1979, pp. 28-48.

[9] JJP-Jewish Samizdat, vol. 17, pp. 109-153.