Ukraine and Palestine. And Hametz
A sermon for Pesach haGadol 5782
As Pesach is approaching, I want to give some advice for the Pesach cleaning. But, before that, let me say a couple of words about what’s happening in Ukraine. What’s the narrative of this war? It’s pretty straightforward. Putin has invaded Ukraine because he’s a pan-Slavic nationalist and wants to strip the Ukrainians of their right to self-determination.
But what do the Russians think about this conflict? What is the Russian narrative of the war? What story does Putin tell to the Russian citizens? Whatever it is, it seems to work. Despite the sanctions and the increasing international isolation, Russian citizens support the war, still believing that Putin is a good president. How did he persuade his subjects that this war was worth the sacrifices?
Russian soldiers are fed with a peculiar narrative. They believe that they are going to Ukraine on a humanitarian mission. They believe the soldiers bring blankets and food to the local population, besieged and persecuted by Nazis.
This is also what ordinary Russians are told. They say that Ukraine has been conquered by the Nazis. That racist parties have imposed a fanatic ideology. That Ukrainians have become racists (perhaps they always have been). They maintain that the Ukrainian Far-Right rules the Country together with the American Nazis, that Far-Right Parties have imposed censorship, and that all the opposition voices are censored. To them the Ukrainian Army is guilty of war crimes. and the Russian speaking minority are at constant risk of being massacred or expelled from their homes.
I know, it sounds delirious, and it actually it is delirious.
Now listen to this narrative. Far-Right now rules Israel. The current Israeli Government is the most Right-wing in the history of the Country. They have imposed a fanatic ideology, Zionism, a racist, supremacist ideology. Israelis have become racist (perhaps they have ever been). The Far Right rules the Country together with American Evangelicals. There is now censorship in Israel, all the opposition voices are censored. Arab Israelis are in constant danger of being massacred or expelled. The Israeli army is guilty of war crimes.
Of course, this antisemitic narrative is delirious, as the Russians’. But it does not sound delirious like the other because we are used to it. The BBC and the Guardian peddle parts of this narrative when they talk about the Middle Wast. And so, a plethora of so-called humanitarian organisations, such as Amnesty International. This series of lies are repeated at every meeting of the United Nations.
The Russian narrative and the anti-Israel narrative have many elements in common. That is because Israel and Ukraine, as imperfect as they are, both are democracies. While Russia is not a democracy. Neither the Palestinian movements that promote the anti-Israel narrative are democratic.
Like many non-democratic narratives, both the Russian and the Palestinian are based on demonisation. They turn the other, the opponents, the enemy, into a Satanic characters. Ukraine is ruled by fanatic Ukrainian nationalists and American Nazis, to the Russians. To the pro-Palestinians, Israel is led by fanatic Zionists and American Evangelicals.
When you are dealing with the devil, compromise is not possible. We have seen how the Russians deal with the Ukrainian civilians. We are familiar with the passion for violent attacks by Palestinian nationalists and Islamists.
Both the pro-Russian and the pro-Palestinians have an absolute obsession with Nazism. They are fighting a perpetual war against the Nazis in their fantasy, and their enemies are all Nazis.
Zelensky is a Nazi, they say. And of course, Netanyahu also was a Nazi, remember? The whole Ukrainian Government is Nazi. And so is the Israeli Government. The Israeli Army has the highest rate of Jewish soldiers in the world. But for the pro-Palestinians, it is a Nazi Army. The Ukrainian Army? Of course, for the Russians, it is a Nazi Army. Those who support Ukraine? All Nazi, of course. Those who support Israel, including me? Nazi, as well. (Yes, I have been called a Nazi. More than once).
The two narratives are similar because the people who tell and believe them have a similar mind frame. They are equally obsessed with Nazis. And quite often, they are the same persons.
Probably you have better things to do than following on social media the activity of Jeremy Corbyn, John MacDonnell, Diane Abbot and their supporters (some of them Jewish, unfortunately). If you do it, you may notice how difficult it is for these pro-Russian supporters even to write the word Russia. They always call for “the end of the war”; they want “peace”; they “condemn both sides”. As if there was no clear distinction between an aggressor and a victim in this war. But because the aggressor is Russia, they are reluctant to name it.
Neither this is a purely British phenomenon. Putin has his share of supporters among the Italian politicos and academics (more than in the UK). Every evening, they repeat the same “bipartisan” pieces of pro-Putin propaganda during talks shows. And they also are, of course, always ready to condemn Israel. They are always eager to show (like Jeremy Corbyn acolytes indeed) empathy towards the terrorists — if the victims are Israeli, especially if the victims are Jewish.
I will talk about the Pesach cleanings in a moment.
But before that, talking about Pesach: who is the modern equivalent of Pharao? I think that Vladimir Putin ticks many of the boxes. He’s a despotic ruler. He is surrounded by yes men who hesitate to give him bad news, such as the plagues in Egypt or military losses in Ukraine. Like Pharao, Putin sees himself as a great ruler. He believes to be the spirit of a whole country. Putin has not ordered to build pyramids yet. But how similar they are.
Let me say it very clearly. There are supporters of this modern Pharao, this war criminal, of Vladimir Putin, here, in the UK. You can spot them easily: they always hesitate to condemn, they always speak about “two sides”, and they dilute the responsibility of Vladimir Putin and of the Russians, even when Russian spies murder people in the UK — with chemical weapons.
These are also people who always oppose Israel. They jump on the bandwagon of the anti-Israeli hate, or often they even organise rallies and demonstrations against Israel, because they are against the existence of every democracy, like Israel or Ukraine.
And here’s my advice about Pesach cleaning. It’s time to get rid of the influence of these haters of democracy, these enemies of Israel, and supporters of Vladimir Putin. When we clean our houses because of Pesach, we get rid of bread crumbles and leavened food because this was the food of the Egyptians. The Egyptians invented bread. Even now, bread produced in Arab Countries, in nowadays Egypt, is the best bread in the world.
We don’t want traces of that culture, of that food, in our houses, during the week of Pesach, because in Egypt, the rule was the worship of power; the dictator was at the top of a whole societal system based on slavery.
And this is the society whose influences we banish from our home.
The time has come to banish the influences of those who peddle the pro-Putin, and the pro-Palestinian, narrative in the Jewish community. Let us remind that a few years ago, there was even a Seder (which I hesitate to call such) at Jeremy Corbyn’s presence — and who else? We want to know!
They used a Haggadah (which I hesitate to call such) which is a patchwork of contemporary proSoviet, pro-Putin, pro-Palestinian terrorism apologetic.
We have to cleanse our communal home of these influences, of these traces of slavery, and of this totalitarian mind frame. We need to get rid of this leavened food, the hametz. There’s no point expressing support for the Ukrainians and their struggle for freedom if we continue to host in our midst friends of Putin and of the Palestinian autocrats.
Honestly, the time has come for proper Pesach cleaning. So that this Passover will be a real Festival of Freedom.