"Soviet policy threatens the Jewish group with extinction"

An Israeli active measures campaign pushes the Soviets = Nazis line.

So I’ve been digging into the Israeli covert influence op that back in the 1960s and 70s seeded the myth of a coming Soviet genocide against the Jews. A few nights ago an old propaganda pamphlet that I bought that was part of this campaign finally arrived in the mail.

I got ahold of this piece of influence op history from Bolerium Books in San Francisco. Apparently it once belonged to William Marx Mandel, an old leftwing author and radio broadcaster from Berkeley who was investigated by Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. I had never heard of him until I got this pamphlet — which has his name stamped on it.

The pamphlet is from 1967. It was published by the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, a group set up by Moshe Decter, an American working as a secret agent for Israel.

These days, Moshe is all but forgotten by history. But starting in 1960, he worked as a covert employee of Nativ, the intelligence agency set up by Israel to find ways to bring Soviet Jews to Israel. He was paid $25,000 a year — which in today’s dollars is closer to $220,000 according a handy inflation calculator. Not a small sum for a one-man shop. Nativ didn’t pay him directly, as that would have forced him to register as a lobbyist. So it conspired to have the World Jewish Congress funnel the money to the American Jewish Congress that then paid Moshe and gave him office space in its New York headquarters — out of which he ran his front group: Jewish Minority Research.

Moshe was once a leftwing anti-communist in New York and hung around Commentary, the once-upon-a-time-leftwing Jewish magazine that then became the nucleus of America’s neoconservative movement. And true to form, Moshe’s relations are spread around the neocon world: Midge Decter, the hardcore anti-feminist, was his wife. She divorced him to marry neocon brain bug Norman Podhoretz. Meanwhile, Moshe’s daughter Rachel married Elliott Abrams — who Trump had brought back from the grave to be his point man on Venezuela.

Moshe’s job for Nativ was to take information given to him by Israeli intelligence about how badly the Soviet Union was treating its Jews, inflate the data dump, and then inject these concerns into American-Jewish communities. The point of his efforts was to convince Americans that the USSR had unleashed a brutal campaign against its Jewish population and that three million people were just one step away from total extermination. He was incredibly successful, and even managed to rope in people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren and Walter Reuther, the head of the United Automobile Workers.

Why was Israel financing this covert illegal influence campaign on American soil? It wanted to use the American government to pressure the Soviet Union to let its Jews immigrate to Israel — part of Israel’s plan to pad its population against the superior demographics of the Palestinians. (You can read more about that op here and here.)

This pamphlet is just one of the many artifacts left over from that time. And as you can see from its black on crimson swastika cover design, Moshe didn’t shy away from making the Nazi = Soviet connection very explicitly.

The pamphlet came out right after the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel — after the Six-Day War.

The notion that Moshe was trying to push with it was that the Soviet Union’s turn against Israel over the war was nothing but cover for a larger and deeper antisemitic campaign — a campaign of discrimination and repression and hate against Jews that was on the verge of boiling into something bloody and deadly, threatening “the Jewish group with extinction.” And so he was reprinting a bunch of virulent antisemitic Soviet newspaper political cartoons as proof of just how dangerous and bad things were getting over there.

As Moshe wrote in the intro:

“The Soviet cartoons that follow speak for themselves. They appear as stringent critiques of Israel in the Middle East crisis. But in the Soviet context they are unmistakably calculated to revive, bolster and perpetuate anti-Semitic prejudice in a country where it is pervasive, endemic, and persistent. … The cartoons bring Soviet propaganda almost to the end of the line. Virtually nothing has been left to the Soviet public’s imagination — nor of ours as we contemplate the fate of three million Jews, silent and isolated.”

To the end of the line? Nothing left to the imagination? Moshe’s being as explicit as possible without actually writing the word “genocide.”

Seems scary! But was it true?

I asked my parents and Evgenia asked her mom about their recollections from that time. They were all in their mid-teens in 1967, living in three different cities — Moscow, Leningrad, and Kingisepp.

Did they remember a huge and violent antisemitic campaign that year? Nope, they didn’t recall anything like that happening at all.

“Maximum, the kind of antisemitism that I experienced as a kid, as a teenager in Kingisepp, was when I’d be hanging out with my friends in some park and some local alcoholics would point at me and say, ‘See. There’s a Jew.’ I don’t remember exactly what they said to me, but they underlined this fact and spoke it out loud. Maybe there was something written in the newspapers, I don’t remember…But an increase in antisemitism? I was in tenth grade. No, there was no antisemitism at the time that I can remember. No one told me, you’re a lousy kike go to Israel.”

As my dad pointed out, he experienced “official” antisemitism only later in life and it was never overt or explicit but structural in nature: hidden quotas on Jewish students in universities, some limits on the kinds of jobs you could hold and the kind of travel you could do because you were considered a flight risk, and a total lack of access to Jewish and Yiddish cultural life, at least if you lived outside of the comic Birobidzhan Jewish Autonomous Oblast that Stalin put way out east on the border with China as a kind of epic troll of the Jews.

So if there was a wild antisemitic campaign embroiling the entire Soviet society in 1967, it totally passed our families by. But maybe they were lucky?

I picked up the pamphlet, thinking maybe it would show that they were indeed the exception — that they somehow were able to escape the torrent of hate directed at Jews. Here was going to be a collection of some really vile and horrific antisemitic images pushed on Soviet society through the press!

But now that it’s in my hands and I’m flipping through it…I realize I was set up for a big letdown.

Sure the cartoons are anti-Israel, which would make sense in the wake of the Soviet Union cutting its ties with Israel following the Six-Day War. But if there is a general theme that unites these cartoons beyond just being against the Israeli government, it’s that they’re broadly anti-American (and anti-British): Israel is portrayed not as some unclean, nefarious global Jewish conspiracy — the standard antisemitic tropes you’d get with Nazi or even Ukrainian fascist propaganda about “the Jews” — but as a puppet of American imperial and corporate interests.

What’s interesting is that William Mandel, the broadcaster who originally owned this pamphlet, seemed to be just as surprised as I was by this lack of antisemitism in a publication whose whole point was to show the existence of a virulent antisemitic campaign…

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—Yasha Levine

Want to know more more? Read my series about forced Jewish migration to Israel:

There are also a few bonus installments: