RFE/RL “Writer-at-large” James Kirchick has a novel theory to explain this summer’s upheaval in Kyrgyzstan.
But looking back on the turbulent events that this country – which I have visited twice in the past five months – has experienced, I realize that a foretaste of the June disturbances was already evident in early April, just days after Kyrgyzstan’s autocratic and corrupt president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was violently ousted from power by an angry mob. Hanging from the gate of the burned-out presidential office compound was a large, white banner with the words “Kyrgyzstan has no place for dirty Jews and the likes of Maxim,” a reference to the ousted president’s son. And the evening after Bakiyev fled Bishkek, the capital, a group of vandals attacked the city’s only synagogue, a tiny, decrepit compound serving a minuscule community of mostly Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian Jews who have been living in Kyrgyzstan since Soviet times.
In case you were wondering, that’s it. That’s his evidence for anti-semitism in Kyrgyzstan, and how it’s a harbinger of greater worries and instability. Of course, the fact that the decidedly non-Jewish Uzbeks bore the brunt of the violence, that all of the displaced people were Uzbek, and that people didn’t hate Jews but rather Maxsim Bakiyev’s thuggery and national theft (and the Russian Jew who enabled him)… well “meh” to that in James’ world.
But to prove Kirchick’s point, that anti-semitism exists in any unique way in Kyrgyzstan, he must reach out to well-known race scholar Christopher Hitchens, who notes that race-hatred against the Tamils or Tutsi didn’t involve global financial conspiracy. While that’s undoubtedly true, as long as we’re drawing baseless analogies, then surely the Tamils are just like the Palestinians because both have used suicide bombing? And the Hutus must be just like Hamas because they believe in genocide?
Of course they’re different—some Palestinians hate Jews, and because of Europe’s experience with violent anti-Semitism, that’s afforded an entirely different class of victimization. Nevermind that, unlike the Jews, the Tamils and Tutsis have experienced actual holocausts over the last 20 years. So what about anti-Semitism within Kyrgyzstan itself?
When I interviewed the community’s rabbi, Arieh Reichman, about a week after the revolution, he was quick to place the blame for the anti-Semitic incidents on a handful of thugs. “The Kyrgyz people are very hospitable and warm-hearted,” he insisted. “This is confirmed by the fact that Jews have lived here untroubled.” …
To be sure, there was no overt connection between April’s anti-Semitic incidents in Bishkek and the ethnic violence in the south two months later.
Oh right, after setting up this huge important point about hating Jews, Kirchick has to admit it doesn’t really exist in Kyrgyzstan and the actual Jews who live there don’t believe in it. So what’s the point? “The way a society treats its Jews,” Kirchick explains, “is a barometer of its health.” Uhh, show your work please?
Two weeks after April’s anti-Semitic incidents, a Kyrgyz mob burned down dozens of houses belonging to Russians and Meskhetian Turks. Something has gone deeply wrong in Kyrgyz society, which has begun to manifest an ethnic nationalism the likes of which the country has never shown before.
Well, race riots happen. Was American society deeply wrong, broken, even, during the race riots in Los Angeles in 1992? France has issues with people committing anti-Semitic violence as well… but they also commit anti-Arab and anti-African violence as well (and those groups have responded in kind). Is French society deeply broken?
Notice that no Jews were attacked during the riots, apart from the defacement of that one single synagogue weeks beforehand. Kirchick saw Uzbeks being beaten and harassed with his own eyes, but he thinks it’s really about Jews. Does that make sense?
I have a different theory: contra the always-cogent Hitchens, racism is vile and disgusting everywhere it is expressed. When I lived in Kazakhstan, I heard people say horrible things about Uzbeks; in Afghanistan, Pashtuns repeated blood-libel against Hazaras; in Rwanda, the Hutus believed the Tutsis part of a conspiracy to take over and rule the country (something Hitchens and Kirchick are smart enough to have known). Whether against Jews or anyone else, it is an ugly, terrible thing, that becomes doubly so when expressed violently.
But let’s make a new rule, yes? Even if you have to publish a certain number of op-eds a month, let’s try to avoid pandering to an Israeli newspaper’s thirst to create a global anti-Semitic movement next time? I don’t blame the editors of Haaretz for not knowing enough about Kyrgyzstan to evaluate Kirchick’s ridiculous appeals to anti-Semitism… but I do blame Kirchick for so shamelessly Jew-baiting an otherwise tragic and complicated and very non-Jewish problem like Kyrgyzstani politics. That’s just low.