Erik Kucherenko

Mr Putin, being a Jew is not a crime

Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images

In a world where diversity and tolerance are celebrated as fundamental principles of our societies, antisemitism seems to become a largely marginal phenomenon. Yet Russian leaders dangerously defy this tendency, reviving the ghosts of the past and consistently making antisemitic statements.

Just a few days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again repeated his antisemitic message about the Jewish heritage of President Zelenskyy: ‘Western curators have placed an ethnic Jew with Jewish roots and origins at the helm of modern Ukraine. In my opinion, they seem to be covering up an anti-human essence that is embedded in the foundation of the modern Ukrainian state.


Prior to this, Putin stated, ‘I have many Jewish friends,‘ during an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg. ‘They say that Zelensky is not Jewish and that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.‘ There is no doubt that these statements are offensive and manipulative for numerous reasons. Let’s examine a few of them:

A person’s race as a justification for criticism: Using a person’s race as a justification for criticism is not a new tactic in the world, but it is unjust to criticise someone based on their ancestry or race. It falsely assumes that a person’s background is inherently connected to their behaviour or ideas. Nonetheless, the Russian dictator continues to employ this tactic.

Reducing Jewish identity to stereotypes: According to Putin’s remark, one’s behaviour or deeds are the only things that can truly designate one as Jewish. This reductionist perspective, which disregards the Jewish community’s variety, which includes a wide range of views, attitudes, and behaviours just like any other group of people, is offensive.

Invoking personal relationships improperly: It’s troublesome when someone tries to justify or lessen the effect of their comment by mentioning that they have Jewish friends. Friendship should not be used as a justification for insulting remarks or to minimise them.

Simultaneously, Vladimir Putin personally and his entire administration have attempted to use the ‘war against Nazism’ justification to support the ongoing war crimes that the world has witnessed since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. The Holocaust, Jews generally, and Israel, of course, are brought up whenever Putin or other representatives have to justify the criminal aggression against Ukraine. For instance, MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova once claimed that ‘Zelenskyy just publicly calls himself a “citizen of Ukraine” and wears blouses instead of embroidered shirts, performs certain ritual actions in temples, but in fact he does not belong to the culture, spirituality of this country and people’. Before that, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov saidIt does not matter that Zelensky is Jewish, even Hitler ‘had Jewish blood’.

This makes it even more crucial to remember that what Russia is doing right now is a horrific crime for which there is no statute of limitations, and which will result in punishment.

Being a Jew is not a crime. A crime is justifying the genocidal war of aggression by exploiting the memories of the Holocaust.

Authored by:

Ariel Katsev, Master of Laws Candidate at the University of Vienna, intern with a Member of the House of Commons of Canada.

Erik Kucherenko, Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Oxford, adviser to a Member of the Parliament of Ukraine.

About the Author
Erik Kucherenko, Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Oxford, adviser to a Member of the Parliament of Ukraine.
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