Today Jews together with Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and Belarusians are fighting for freedom and independence.
Pavel Feldbluym, the former executive director of the Russian Jewish Congress, the head of the Jewish religious community of Moscow, stated that in the interview with Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter97.org.
After the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the war in Donbass, Pavel Feldbluym assumed a principled pro-Ukrainian stance and moved to Kyiv early this year.
- Pavel, you were one of the leaders of the Jewish community of Russia, the ex-chairman of the Jewish community of Moscow. Why did you have to leave Russia, and move to Ukraine, the country Russia is waging war against?
- I would say that "have to leave" is not an exact definition. I think there were no force majeure circumstances which could meddle in my life in Moscow. It's a matter of my personal choice.
There are always compromises, and you can meet them up to a point. My point of no return was the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. I was born in Ukraine, and it is what I really care about. It was unbearable to stay in the country who was waging the war against the country I spent the dearest moments in.
- Were you born in Kharkiv?
- Yes, I was. I spent there ten years unless my parents left for the far north. That's how I found myself in Russia. I've never been an opposition member, I had no chances to fight the regime being there. When making a decision on the country to leave for, I understood that no other country but Ukraine would be the best choice, because others were regarded as an escape.
- Even if it were Israel?
- Even if I had left for Israel, it would have been the escape. Of course, there was an opportunity to go anywhere and to settle there down somehow, and abstract myself from what was going on. But moving to Ukraine for me is just not the escape, but a way to continue the protest.
All three years before my departure I publicly took the position in support of Ukraine. It was a principled position, that was my way personal compromise. This was the only thing that allowed me to stay in Russia. But soon it turned out that my public speeches and statements jeopardise not me but my relatives and friends.
Leaving for Ukraine is a challenge to me. The fight is too strong word. The ability to entrench a public attitude can hardly be a hard struggle, but it is the continuation of my personal opposition to the Russian regime. Moreover, the very fact of my departure for Ukraine is also a sign and a certain message. My move to Ukraine shows that there are not only Berl Lazar (Chief rabbi of the RF) and other Jewish leaders among Jews who have become the part of the Russian "vertical" and their actions and statements legitimize the Russian aggression.
- Why is this happening? Why do Jewish organizations often support the official authorities both in Russia and Belarus?
- First, it's not just Jewish organizations. I'm talking about Jewish ones, because I belong to them, and I was one of the Jewish leaders of Russia. Now all public structures of Russia are the part of the system. They play the role of curtains; nothing more. .
Russia has long lost its civil society. Mice and men were destroyed right before our eyes. And this is the policy of Vladislav Surkov (adviser to the RF President - the note of Charter97.org). All this "combing" and destruction of the civil society have been successfully accomplished. Nothing and no one stands out. Jews are also the part of this decorative picture.
Jewish decorations are more important than any others, because one has to explain somehow the invasion to Ukraine. It is explained with the fascism that is allegedly flourishing here, and with anti-semitism of course. As soon as I arrived here, I can see the situation with my own eyes. it would be fun to say that there is no anti-semitism in Ukraine, but it is not a mainstream. Any anti-semitic attack faces an immediate and powerful reaction on the part of the Ukrainian society.
How is it possible to determine the development level of anti-semitic sentiment in a particular country? The reaction of the society is the best indicator. The reaction that exists in Ukraine is very inspiring to me; there is no anti-semitism, there are some marginal manifestations; nothing more.
I have no doubts that many anti-semitic manifestations inspired by Russia and all that is happening is immediately used by Russian propaganda and becomes a part of this discourse.
- Why has Israel today adopted a neutral position with regard to the Russian war against Ukraine?
- Israel has to build up relations with Russia, and we see that the intensity of contacts at the highest level between Israel and Russia is higher than ever. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constantly visits Russia to discuss the situation in the Middle East and Syria.
The presence of a Russian military group near Israel's borders is, of course, a meaningful factor, but I remember how the Jewish organizations joyfully welcomed the beginning of the Russia's operation in Syria. It was said that it could be a positive factor for Jews. This is a shameful page in the history of the Jews of Russia. The support of the Syrian campaign by Russian Jewish leaders is a disaster. It is now clear that this is a huge threat to Israel itself.
The passage of events is barely predictable, but, unfortunately, Israel is the country with the security under a constant threat. In a hostile environment the political leadership of the country has to cut corners, and a moral and ethical factor are not always a priority in Israel's policy decisions. Sometimes one has to focus on things that are related to practical considerations, so-called real-policy. That's, of course, sad.
- In your articles on the Echo of Moscow you write a lot about solidarity. An international solidarity made possible the establishment of Israel as a state. And you call for the Jews to show solidarity with Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and Belarusians, who are fighting for freedom and independence.
- I would say in a bit different words. Not the worldwide solidarity contributed to the establishment of Israel, on the contrary, the Jewish people know perfectly how it is hard to fight without any external support and to stay alone with problems. But for the actions of the world's states in 1930-1940s, there would probably have been no those conditions that made the Holocaust possible (a great tragedy for the Jews).
We, indeed, should understand too well those who find themselves in the situation when the solidarity you're talking about is needed.
With regard to the Crimean people, I see that the Crimean Tatars are today in the same position as the Jews before the creation of Israel, when they had no land of their own. I am convinced that the struggle of the Crimean Tatars will be successful. But Jews must show solidarity in this struggle and to make every effort to help these long-suffering, courageous people to gain their homeland.
- Do Jewish public figures of Russia and Belarus face the dilemma Natan Sharansky wrote about? Israeli politicians told him that he should fight for Jewish rights in the USSR, but not to fight for the rights of Soviet citizens.
- As far as I understand, the issue now slightly differs. It sounds like: whether Jews should be involved in their business, build communities, participate in Jewish activities or being citizens of a country they live in they should participate in political processes in the country, and take an active part in a political struggle and the destiny of the country.
This issue has always been acute. And some considered it possible to go into internal immigration and deal only with the issues of Jews. But there have always been people who been born to participate in the destiny of the country. We are not guests, we are the part of the society we live in, and we are equal partners of the society.
We cannot but worry about things important to our neighbors, to our colleagues, to our friends, and so on. How can we distract from it? I don't think that's real. And in Ukraine Jews are an active part of civil society and participate along with other peoples in the struggle that Ukraine is waging with Russia.
My aim is to do my best to help the Ukrainian society to cope with challenges it faces today. I mean the war with Russia, and the return of Crimea, and the support of the Crimean Tatars.
- Is this the matter the Jewish Support Fund for Ukraine you are now creating will deal with?
- Yes, we are now creating an organization. It aims at participation in all the problems and challenges that today exist in Ukraine. It involves the support of the Ukrainian army and, among other things, the rehabilitation of the ATO members. Contacts with our Israeli friends will be useful here, because the level of medical development in Israel is very high.
The Jewish Support Fund for Ukraine will deal not so much with internal Jewish problems as with what is really important for the Ukrainian society as a whole. We are the part of the Ukrainian political nation.