We are not considering this possibility [of annexing Crimea]. It’s up to people living in a certain territory, if they can exercise their free will, and determine their future. For example, if Kosovo’s Albanians were allowed to do that, self-determination, which according to U.N. documents is a right, but we will never instigate it, never support such trends. Only the people who live in a certain territory have the right to decide their own future.
But the US hasn’t permanently annexed its conquests in a long time. For example, the US gave Iwo Jima, acquired in 1945 at the cost of 6,800 dead Americans, back to Japan in 1968. Indeed, the motto of the Iraq invasion could be “War for no oil.” Generally speaking, internationally acceptable border changes these days make countries smaller (such as Sudan splitting), not larger, as adding Crimea to Russia or the West Bank to Israel would.
Israel’s expansion beyond the paltry boundaries of its 1947 UN mandate in 1948 had been accepted as more or less a late battle of WWII. But its 1967 conquests remain technically unvalidated by most of the world community.
Israel has been settling the West Bank for over 45 years, so it’s unlikely to go anywhere. In fact, Israel appears to enjoy the global squabbling its West Bank policy ignites because uniting to offend foreigners keeps Israelis from clawing each other’s eyes out. As Henry Kissinger cynically concluded after endless frustrations negotiating with Israeli leaders who paid more attention to opinion polls: “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics.”
Nonetheless, any Israeli leader would enjoy the symbolic triumph of more international recognition for its conquests. Thus, Israel and Russia potentially have something to trade.
An Israel-Russia alliance would have strong bases in each other’s domestic politics. About 15 percent of voters in Israel speak Russian at home. These Russian-born Israelis, familiar with traditional Russian logic about get-big-or-get-conquered, typically want to hold onto all of Israel’s conquests. Israeli journalist Lily Galili says:
They come from this huge empire to this tiny Israel and they say: “Is that all, is that the country? And what, you want to give back the territories? Who gives up territory in the first place! And in this small country. You must be kidding!”
Russian-speaking Israelis mostly support the hardline Likud Beiteinu party formed by Netanyahu’s current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. As a Putin admirer who was born in the Soviet city of Kishinev (now the capital of Romanian-speaking Moldova), Lieberman would be a natural interlocutor between the two regimes.
Conversely, Putin commands the support of several billionaires who are dual citizens of Russia and Israel.
The widespread assumption among American Jews that Putin is anti-Semitic is a persecution fantasy derived from ancestral tales of the czar whipping up pogroms. Putin’s renewal of strong rule in Russia automatically triggers Jewish anti-czarist neuroses, even though some of them are based on dubious tales spread by William Randolph Hearst’s yellow press. (Steven Zipperstein, Stanford professor of Jewish culture and history, has discovered that the universal attribution to czarist malevolence of the legendary 1903 pogrom in Lieberman’s home town of Kishinev is based on an anti-czarist forgery.)
To see how well Jews have done in Putin’s Russia, take a look of Forbes’s 2013 list of Russian billionaires. Judging from surnames, about 21 Russian billionaires are Jewish. Another 20 are Central Asian or Middle Eastern (e.g., Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs, etc.), and 69 are Eastern European. (Russia, by the way, has a ridiculous number of billionaires. Poland, a better-governed country, only has four.) So people with Jewish surnames making up 19 percent of Forbes‘s list of Russian billionaires is pretty good when they number something like 0.13 percent of Russia’s population.
It’s only compared to the glory days of the Yeltsin years that Jews have reason for complaint. As Amy Chua of the Yale Law School had the courage to point out in 2003: After a decade of advice from American economists, five of the seven top Russian oligarchs were wholly of Jewish descent and another was half-Jewish. Putin, in contrast, has succeeded in making Russia’s oligarchs look more like Russia, bringing diversity to the ranks of billionaires, thus defusing a major incitement to anti-Semitism.
That bizarre level of disparate impact had gone utterly unspoken in the American media in the 1990s and remains almost unmentionable today. And that’s why it would make sense for Russia to woo nationalist Israelis: to get better treatment from the global media.
This was the strategy of Rupert Murdoch: You don’t need all the Jews in New York on your side, but you do need some of them. Richard Nixon and his chief domestic adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan came to the same conclusion in 1969 and thus sponsored the launching of neoconservatism.
Russia has been following the course Israel has been on toward the right for decades. Make friends with the Israeli right, and that buys you a lot of friends in New York and Washington: not a majority, but enough to get a hearing.
Putin must realize he can”t possibly win an arms race with the American military, much less a narrative race with the American media. He has to lower the temperature on the conservative side of America by reducing the ancient animus felt by American Jews toward anybody acting the czar. The road to conservative American Christian hearts runs through Jerusalem.
In the very long run, Russia’s adoption of the nationalist Zionist cause would likely lead the declining fraction of liberal Israelis to turn toward their enlightened cultural cousins, the natural rivals of the Russians, the richest and the most latently powerful country in Europe, the Germans. When the world went to war exactly 100 years ago, liberal Jews largely sympathized with Germany, the home of their ancestral language Yiddish and their enlightened culture.
Therefore, perhaps, Russia and the Israel nationalist majority will espouse 19th-century Romantic nationalism, while Germany will use late 20th-century European Union postnationalism and their Jewish friends as the mild mask for German domination of Europe.
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