1 November 2023
by Ilya Shablinsky
As a new phase of the war against Hamas unfolds in Israel, political dividends are being reaped elsewhere. Turkey’s president recently addressed a crowded rally at Istanbul airport, where he declared that Hamas is not a terrorist organisation. The Turkish leader called those associated with Hamas ‘mujahideen fighting a war of liberation’ and Israel an ‘occupier’. It can be assumed that Erdogan is taking the opportunity to keep his rating up: the recent elections caused him a great deal of concern. And not so long ago the Turkish leader was directing his invective against terrorists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Although Kurdish militants, apparently, are lagging far behind those from Hamas who killed about 1,400 Israelis in less than a day.
In general, this rally at the airport, where participants, of course, were brought from all over Turkey, strongly resembled the rallies regularly organised by the Russian government in support of itself – which are also called not ‘rallies’ [‘meetings’ in Russian] but ‘Putings’.
There was a time Putin also presented himself as a fighter against terrorism, but times have changed. Now the Russian dictator is using the moment to remind his potential admirers and clients among Asian and African states that he still fancies himself at the head of the anti-colonial movement, positioning himself as a successor to the USSR, albeit without colonies.
The dictator is undoubtedly happy about the new war, since he expects it will somehow help him in the war he is himself waging against Ukraine. True, Moscow did not organise a rally in support of Hamas with joyful waving of Palestinian and Russian flags. Although they did welcome an official delegation headed by Hamas politburo member Abu Marzouk, with whom Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov had a friendly conversation. This was related by Abu Marzouk himself and Maria Zakharova, who interestingly avoided even using the word Hamas. Zakharov referred to ‘the relevant Palestinian movement’ instead.
In general, it should be remembered that interaction with the ‘relevant movement’ is a traditional contact for the Russian authorities. Hamas representatives have regularly met in Moscow with officials from the foreign ministry and with Duma deputies. For example, the last such contact took place exactly one year ago, in September 2022, and before that in 2020. A little earlier, the Russian ambassador to Israel explained that the ‘relevant Palestinian movement’ had not yet been recognised in Russia as a terrorist organisation, because Hamas had not deliberately killed Russian citizens.
True, something has changed since 7 October 2023. The ‘relevant Palestinian movement’ killed either 18 or 20 Russian citizens who were at the same time citizens of Israel, and took either five or eight Russians hostage, which apparently was a topic of conversation in Moscow. But probably it had not been quite ‘deliberately’ that the militants still killed the Russians, or maybe Russians with dual citizenship are not quite Russians, so again the question of the terrorist nature of the organisation is not an issue.
Formally, the main topic of the talks, according to the foreign ministry, was the issue of hostages and the evacuation of Russian citizens from Gaza. But it is clear that the essence of the meeting went beyond the stated framework. What was this essence?
Indeed, present-day Russia seems to have inherited from the USSR a policy of supporting terrorist entities presented as ‘liberation’ movements. In the USSR, militants of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Irish Republican Army, the aforementioned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and so on, were nurtured and trained. The list would be long. Huge amounts of money were invested in something that did not benefit the country in any way, but only damaged its reputation.
Today we are witnessing roughly the same thing. Putin is a very Soviet person and a Soviet KGB colonel. Now on his agenda is a comprehensive and universal confrontation with the US, so all anti-American forces need to be nurtured. However, the current meeting with Hamas in the Kremlin is not just a tribute to tradition – it is literally a challenge. Above all to the US and Israel. For the first time in many years, the Israeli foreign ministry reacted extremely sharply to this challenge, calling the meeting with Abu Marzouk and company ‘a shameful step that legitimises terrorist atrocities’.
Moreover, it is, of course, a signal to all partners in the so-called ‘anti-colonial’ agenda. And to all other major actors on the world stage. It is, one might say, the perfect demonstration. Here they are, the allies: Hamas and Putin’s Russian Federation. Next to them stands Iran, where another young woman who did not cover her head with a hijab has just been murdered. I should think that now there will be less outrage in Iran itself, because the main heroes now are Hamas.
Here, by the way, we can once again return to the question of the status of a ‘terrorist organisation’. The current leader of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was among those who officially declared those associated with Hamas terrorists in the early 2000s. In 2006-2007, Hamas won just over half the vote in the first (and last) Palestinian Authority elections. And it confirmed that it was abandoning all the agreements with Israel reached by the PLO in the early 1990s. In this way, the course towards the real establishment of an Arab state in Palestine and its economic development (towards which Abbas had apparently been aiming) was cancelled. The main and only goal became the destruction of Israel.
But Abbas’s (and formerly Arafat’s) Fatah party had previously abandoned this goal and gained support both in the Arab world and in Europe. Fatah had its own legal armed forces, its own agenda and its own interests. As a result, a brief intra-Palestinian war broke out that split the Palestinian movement into two factions. People from Hamas killed or expelled all Fatah representatives from Gaza, blew up their headquarters, and took full control of the enclave. However, they failed to gain a foothold in the West Bank, where Fatah remained in power. That was when Abbas branded Hamas a terrorist organisation.
About 10 years later, these two movements concluded some kind of peace agreement. But the mutual hatred probably remains. That is why it is difficult to say what feelings really possessed Abbas and the functionaries from Fatah when they learnt of the new war initiated by their political rivals. In words, of course, they are with the Palestinian street, merrily celebrating the deaths of thousands of Israelis. How things will go from here on is hard to say. Of course, these people would like to regain control of Gaza.
But let’s return to Russia. What can the Kremlin’s open alliance with Hamas lead to in our country? Only to a strengthening of anti-Israeli sentiment.
Alas, we do not have to go far for illustrations. On 28 and 29 October, violent anti-Semitic outbursts took place in a number of predominantly Muslim regions of Russia. In Khasavyurt, a crowd of local residents besieged the Flamingo hotel, trying to find out whether arrivals from Israel were living there. The administration promptly responded by posting a notice on the door of the hotel informing that arrivals from Israel (‘Jews’, the authors of the notice specified) could not stay at the hotel. In Makhachkala, a crowd broke into the airport terminal building and onto the runway, also trying to identify Israelis.
One person died, several dozen were wounded. And the flywheel of hatred continues to spin.
Let’s try again to outline the reasons and explain the forms of these anti-Semitic outbursts. They are a reaction by Muslims from the Russian provinces to the Israeli air strikes on Gaza, in particular, on the structures of the Hamas organisation. At the same time, the fact of the initial attack by Hamas militants on the towns of southern Israel on 7-8 October with the killing of almost 1,500 Israelis has apparently been forgotten or simply ignored by the ‘defenders of the Palestinian people’.
But this is not the first time Israel has been at war with Hamas. Very serious hostilities, which included airstrikes on Gaza as well as rocket attacks on Israeli cities, took place in 2012, and more recently in 2021. Before that, in 2006, Israel fought a major war with Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon and even within Lebanon itself. At that time, the Israeli air force also struck the enemy from the air, also hitting residential neighbourhoods. People from Hezbollah and Hamas answered in kind.
These events were discussed in Russia, but did not provoke any sharp reaction. In general, the majority of public opinion took a more balanced view – than in Soviet times – of who was right and who was wrong in the constantly simmering conflict in the Middle East.
Why do we see mobs carrying out pogroms in the Muslim regions of Russia today who see only one side to blame? One of the main reasons is the general radicalisation of sentiment in the country as a whole and in Muslim regions in particular under the influence of propaganda and the ongoing war. Russian state propaganda, especially in the last five years, has spent a lot of effort to foment anti-American sentiment. But the implementation of this strategy has, as a side effect, increased anti-Israeli attitudes. It should be noted that in the last two weeks alone, Russian state media have mentioned dozens of times that Israel is the main US ally in the Middle East. And in the coverage of the current conflict itself, especially in the last two weeks, the emphasis has been on the actions of Israel, which attacked Gaza in response to the massacre of Israelis on 7-8 October. And just yesterday Putin spoke again about the killing of ‘hundreds of thousands of completely innocent people’ in Gaza (if only someone had reminded him of the war against Ukraine!).
The point here is not only that these figures are completely arbitrary and even absurd, but that the Russian state has actively and happily joined in the propaganda work of the jihadists. The fact that Israel’s actions are a response to the attack by Hamas, the average Russian viewer (especially in Muslim regions) has not just forgotten, but does not even want to know.
Putin personally and Minister Lavrov personally have already made a number of statements that can easily be interpreted as expressions of latent dislike for the state of Israel and its people. And now, finally, a meeting in the Kremlin with Hamas leaders. For a broad cross-section of Russian people who are susceptible to this kind of propaganda, these signals are an expression that the Russian state has already chosen a side in this conflict and expects its citizens to do the same. And some citizens are already happy to show their loyalty to the state, especially since its choice is in line with their deepest impulses.
And evidence of the fact that the state has already found another enemy and is pointing this out through its agents comes almost every day. Here propagandist Dmitry Kiselev gently explains that anti-Semitism is literally a cultural norm in Arab countries and should be treated as such. And Aleksandr Kots, a military correspondent for Komsomolskaya pravda, publishes the following call in his Telegram channel: ‘Do you want to kill Jews? Go to Gaza. Or to Kiev. I know the address of one, I can tell you: 11 Bankova Street.’
He, as others, in case anyone has forgotten, is fighting the ‘Ukrainian Nazis’. And if there is ever finally talk of ‘denazifying’ Russia, it should possibly start with this gentleman.
Translated by Rights in Russia