HRC Campus Media Fellow Published In The Jerusalem Post: My Grandfather’s USSR Experience Is Mimicked In Modern Times

On May 3, 2023, one of our Campus Media Fellows, Nati Pressman, was published in The Jerusalem Post about how her Grandfather’s experiences facing antisemitism in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, is the same form of antisemitism that hides today under the claim of criticism of Israel, which has crept onto campuses across the country.


My Grandfather’s USSR Experience Is Mimicked In Modern Times

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It’s easier to be a Jew on a Canadian university campus than one in the Soviet Union. After the founding of Israel in 1948, Stalin immediately launched an antisemitic propaganda campaign. Even after his death, Stalin’s rhetoric continues to be relevant on university campuses across Canada. By examining the rhetoric of Stalin’s anti-Zionist campaign, we can understand how successful it was and how it continues to be relevant in the 21st century.

Stalin’s campaign focused on two assertions: First, Jews in the Soviet Union who longed for Israel were not in line with Soviet values or patriotic enough, and therefore, were considered foreign agents. Second, demonizing every Jewish person as a Zionist and forcing them to be imprisoned in Siberia for pro-Zionist ideology is not antisemitic, but rather anti-Zionist.

The USSR Citizenship Act of 1939, which forced Jews to list their national identity as “Jew,” coupled with policies of religious limitation and ethnic discrimination, led to an increasingly antisemitic environment. Stalin’s policies continued after his death, culminating in the refusal to allow the Jewish people, like my grandfather, to leave the USSR for Israel. People like my grandfather were subjected to discrimination and harassment by Soviet authorities.

My grandfather told me stories about how the KGB would rip out his floorboards in the search for illegal books because of his desire to move to Israel. He was subsequently denied immigration permits, with “state secrets” listed as the reason. Fortunately, the work of Jewish organizations abroad, such as those in Canada, which sponsored my family, was able to guarantee my grandfather’s release to Israel.

The same form of antisemitism that hides under the claim of criticism of Israel has crept onto campuses across the country. Although criticism of Israel’s policies and government is legitimate, the attached fixation on the Jewish people and the attempt to restrict their access to their ancestral homeland or their ability to practice this connection is an attempt to limit Jewish practice and experience as a whole.

Dangerous rhetoric
The rhetoric that led to the discrimination and oppression of my family in the USSR is eerily similar to the rhetoric I’ve heard today on campus. Anti-Israel students claim their deep-seated hatred of Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism, but is rather a result of their anti-Zionist views.

In a May 1972 parade in Moscow, a float with a spider wearing a Jewish hat says in Russian, “Zionism is the weapon of imperialism!” In May 2021, the McGill Daily editorial board issued a statement claiming that its opposition to imperialism corresponds to its opposition to Zionism.

Soviet newspapers published cartoons of the flag of Israel with the Star of David morphed into a swastika. There is a repeated trend in which student organizations use the anti-Zionism claim to subject Jewish students to inherent discrimination, all for practicing their religious beliefs.

For me, seeing these symbols and signs themselves is appalling. How can it be that the same rhetoric that targeted my family has now been normalized and weaponized to appear on campuses? Understanding the similarities between Stalinist propaganda and modern-day antisemitism allows for a better conceptual understanding of where the harm of antisemitic rhetoric can lead.

My grandfather fought against the same antisemitism that I encounter on campus today. A part of me is worried it may never end.

The writer is a student at Queen’s University and a campus media fellow for HonestReporting Canada.

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