Throughout Soviet rule, Soviet leaders stated their country was free of antisemitism. Still, Soviet Jews were frequently denied the opportunity to leave the country and were considered “refuseniks,” an unofficial term for Jews who were denied the ability to emigrate. In turn, this classification made life in the Soviet even harder, making it difficult to find a job. This created a dangerous cycle of antisemitism.
Much of this hostility and propaganda still exists today — it has made its way onto college campuses, disguising itself once again as a cause that works for the greater good of society.
During the Soviet Union, state-sponsored propaganda showcased Jews as money-hungry, aggressive, and privileged. The Soviet Union spearheaded the anti-Zionist campaign, purporting that Zionism was racism and that Nazi-collaberating Zionists controlled the press by making false claims of antisemitism. Jews were made alien in the Soviet Union, worsened by propaganda that blamed them for any wrongdoing in society.
By drawing a false equivalency between Nazism and Zionism, the Soviet Union incorrectly branded Zionism as racism. With help from the KGB, the Soviet Union twisted the Jewish liberation movement into one that should be destroyed. This became especially prominent after the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 declared Zionism is a form of racism. Though the resolution was revoked in 1991, the damage was done.
On college campuses, Jewish students and allies who support Israel are branded as racist. At a protest at the University of Chile, students testified to hearing chants that likened Zionism to Nazism, while doctors at the University of Toronto medical school made posts that implied Zionism is racism and white supremacy.
Mohammed El-Kurd, who recently toured college campuses across the US, is known to use this dehumanizing rhetoric. In a series of tweets, El-Kurd suggested Israelis have “internalized the way of the nazis.”
Student groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), have also used this trope. National SJP states that it stands against all forms of racism, including white supremacy, Zionism and antisemitism. By including Zionism on the list of other unquestionably reprehensible ideologies, SJP urges people to immediately associate Zionism with evil, rather than the Jewish people decolonizing their homeland. SJP Chicago has also made Instagram infographics that suggest Zionism is related to white supremacy.
These statements deny Zionism as a Jewish liberation movement that acts as protection from other forms of racism. White supremacy was used to justify the systematic murder six million Jews before the Jewish homeland was re-established.
When Israel was re-established, the Soviet Union portrayed the achievement of Jewish self-determination as a travesty. For the Soviets, Israel was an act of colonialism in the Middle East. At a May Day parade in Moscow in 1972, Zionism was referred to as the “weapon of imperialism.”
Ilan Pappé, an expatriate Israeli who toured college campuses across North America, referred to Zionism as a colonial movement that sought to colonize Israel and potentially expand to surrounding Arab states.
Student organizations, particularly SJPs, have clung to the belief that Israel is a settler-colonialist endeavor, despite no country existing in the land before Israel’s establishment. These statements also negate the fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to the land and therefore cannot colonize it. From the Soviet Union to college campuses, this messaging sends a signal that Jews with their true identity are not welcome.
This signal has come from student governments who questioned Jewish students’ impartiality. It has created a space where Jewish students debate whether or not to hide key aspects of themselves, a space eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union.
At the University of Southern California in 2020, student government vice president resigned after being harassed for her Zionist stance. Her peers created a social media campaign, calling her a racist that must be impeached.
The trend of removing Jewish and Zionist students from their leadership positions is not uncommon. It holds the belief that Jews are incapable of remaining neutral on pressing campus issues.
This rhetoric has also been found in the UK, when, in 2019, students voted against the establishment of a Jewish society at the University of Essex. Then-lecturer at the University of Essex, Dr. Maaruf Ali, did not approve of the potential Jewish society, stating that “the Zionists now want to create a society here at our university!” He also espoused the idea of Zionists controlling media on a far-right Nazi apologist website.
Above all, this belief is founded on the conspiracy that Jews are manipulating the world. In the Soviet Union, Zionists were accused of controlling the world. In 1967, an article entitled “What is Zionism?” was published, writing that the Zionist machine serves the West in the hopes of establishing control over the world.
Much of the anti-Israel rhetoric on college campuses today is rooted in propaganda sponsored by the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews fled the USSR, primarily motivated by the antisemitic and anti-Zionist campaigns. It is up to this generation to ensure there is a safe place for Jews on campus, where their Zionist identity is not a target of a political campaign. While the Soviet Union may have collapsed, the propaganda it created must be dismantled.