Another Tack: Kremlin or Canossa?

Did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu just travel to Moscow or did he also simultaneously go to a latter- day Canossa? Did Bibi obsequiously succumb to an outside power (in the manner of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV who prostrated himself before pope Gregory VII in medieval Canossa)?

Reportedly Netanyahu rushed off to Moscow to plead with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin not to sell Syria advanced rocketry. Previous Israeli and American entreaties failed to dissuade Russia from pressing ahead with the deal or, earlier, from the startup of Iran’s only nuclear plant.

With the Cold War behind us, we might expect a cooperative rather than an audaciously obstructionist Russia. What we witness, however, is too déjà vu for comfort, too eerily reminiscent of the defunct USSR.

Instead of moving forward as a genuine democracy, we find Moscow donning democracy’s trappings while performing old-time realpolitik stunts. It’s not an outright foe but never quite a friend, and very obviously determined to stake its claim, by any means, to superpower status.

It’s almost as if Russia relishes being unpredictable and inscrutable. Its duplicity hardly paints Russia as the neutral force for peace it purports to be and its undertakings plainly cannot be relied upon.

Israel is justifiably nervous, which is why Netanyahu opted to intercede at the highest Kremlin echelons. Significantly, however, the Russians wouldn’t receive him without preliminary humiliation.

Before Netanyahu was at all allowed to land, Putin insisted that Israel forthwith transfer to Moscow final control of the Russian Compound’s famed Sergei’s Courtyard (including the once-sumptuous “Sergei Imperial Guesthouse”).

It’s smack-dab in the very heart of Jerusalem – in the western part thereof, the one that lies within the Green Line, the one which ostensibly Israel may be allowed to keep after it relinquishes all it liberated in its 1967 war of self-defense.

With friends like Putin, we need no enemies. He deserves none of the consideration that might perhaps be extraordinarily extended a bosom buddy (though genuine allies wouldn’t pursue archaic pretexts for a footing in another nation’s capital and cradle of its heritage).

Besides, Putin doesn’t politely request a cordial gesture. Moscow harps on “the return of Russian property,” declaring that there’s no contesting “the legitimacy of Russian claims to the St. Sergius Metochion, the building of the Russian church mission and various other facilities in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, desperate for an audience with the Muscovite powers-that-be, lost no time and ordered the overnight eviction from compound premises of the Agriculture Ministry. Indeed, it was all so sudden that ministry employees had to be sent home on indefinite leave.

Yet that’s the least troublesome consequence (the blow to national sovereignty notwithstanding). In Kremlin hands, these holdings would de facto become extraterritorial. What if terrorists were to flee and find refuge therein? Would IDF troops break into Putin’s toehold in one of the world’s touchiest geopolitical hotspots?

Russia, siding with our existential foes, won’t alter its policies, even if sweetened by gifts of prime Jerusalem acreage, regardless of the symbolism and prestige involved. It won’t set aside entrenched interests even for foreign relics of yesteryear’s imperialism.

The precedent, additionally, might whet other appetites. Russian territorial claims here aren’t limited to Sergei’s Courtyard. The Greek Orthodox Church owns the land on which the Knesset and prime minister’s residence stand. If the Agriculture Ministry can be ejected, why not the Jewish parliament and the head of government?

The entire compound was chartered from the Ottomans by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1858 to lodge pilgrims. The Sergei Complex, occupying nine compound acres, was constructed decades afterward by then-president of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, to accommodate visiting aristocrats.

The Turks classified Sergei’s property as private and emphatically not Russian state holding. They confiscated the compound in World War I and the British Mandate requisitioned it again postwar, while “White” and “Red” Russian churches vied for ownership.

Israel purchased most of the compound from the USSR in 1964, but, being cashed-strapped then, paid $3.5 million in … oranges. The Sergei Building, church and courtyard weren’t included in the transaction and, until the Six Day War, served as a KGB spy nook. Ex-KGB hotshot Putin refuses money in exchange.

Who was the Sergei whose individual real estate holding Putin elevates to Russia’s sacred national heirloom?

Grand Duke Sergei – son of Tsar Alexander II, brother of infamous Tsar Alexander III and uncle to last Tsar Nicholas II – was an avid practitioner of the recurrent Romanov theme: “Beat the Jews and save Russia.”

His Jew-revulsion was unrivaled even by his royal kinfolk’s rabid anti-Semitism.

In 1891 – mere months after Sergei’s Building went up in Jerusalem – his brother appointed him Moscow’s governor-general. Sergei’s first decision was to uproot the city’s 30,000 Jews. Moscow was to be “cleansed” in three phases – the poorest and least-veteran Jewish inhabitants ousted first and the richest and longest-residing removed last.

The banishment edict was published on the first day of Passover. Next night policemen swooped down on Jewish homes, roused entire frightened families and drove thousands of men, women and children to filthy lockups. Jews who hid out in dark alleys and cemeteries were rounded up and roughed up. All, shorn of their possessions, were later driven out like vermin. Many were tortured. The infirm died in transit. Some were dragged in wooden manacles, like outlaws, to do hard labor in distant prisons.

Several expulsion installments later, Moscow was rendered virtually judenrein. In Sergei’s Russia, moreover, Moscow’s deported Jews were the lucky ones. Elsewhere, Sergei’s clan unleashed gruesome pogroms – painstakingly premeditated as diversionary tactics to quell internal unrest – in which Jews suffered manifestations of barbaric butchery eclipsed only by the horrors of the Holocaust.

Thus if Putin speaks in terms of “national birthright,” why not also Israel? Why not demand minimal quid pro quo – a central sliver of Russia’s capital for a central sliver of Israel’s capital?

Why not demand – in return for one ruthless Russian despot’s property, for which Putin yearns nostalgically – that Putin pay with what Sergei stole from the Jews he robbed and exiled? Moscow’s Zaryadye historical district, adjacent to Red Square, was Muscovite Jewry’s hub (particularly the sizable Glebov Yard, site of the then-Jewish ghetto). Why not award that area to Israel in return for Sergei’s Courtyard?

Putin would likely balk and assert that Israel isn’t heir to the Jews Sergei dispossessed, in which case Netanyahu should have noted that Putin’s Russia isn’t heir to Sergei (strictly speaking, his closest living relative, Britain’s Prince Philip, is).
But supplicants at Canossa evince no pride and certainly don’t talk back.

Claims for a pound of Jewish national flesh, apparently, aren’t only made by Arabs. We owe slices of our capital to all sorts of latecomers, conquerors, glory-seekers, clout-hunters and would-be meddlers in our volatile region.

Irresolute governments, predisposed to cede some parts of Jerusalem “for peace,” won’t shrink from surrendering other parts “for (improved diplomatic) palaver” – even bits of Jerusalem’s downtown, where our tenure isn’t defamed as controversial or precarious.

4 thoughts on “Another Tack: Kremlin or Canossa?

  1. ‘Before Netanyahu was at all allowed to land, Putin insisted that Israel forthwith transfer to Moscow final control of the Russian Compound’s famed Sergei’s Courtyard’
    Everybody knows how easily the secular Jewish leadership always capitulate under minimal pressure.
    It’s so easy to demand anything from the desperate slaves.
    Empty suits like Netanyahu make it so easy for Israel’s enemies to sink the nation without firing a shot.
    They never stand for anything and have long ago thrown off any red lines.
    That’s only for a free people who believe in something real.

    The people just sit back and ignore the damage their reprehensible leader causes because he is just like them.

    Everyone knows how these fearful and spineless cretins stand for nothing and would sell their own mothers and the nation for nothing in return but gift wrapped missiles and rockets targeted at Israel.
    The secular leadership keeps doing great damage to Israel because they are weak and faithless.

  2. Thank you Sarah, for this highly informative and enlightening article and your many wise and well thought suggestions. Russia is having a very hard time trying to establish some kind of international identity. The Soviet Union did a lot to cripple the Russians’ self esteem and they are still trying to recover. Unfortunately, it would seem they are trying to pick up where they left off, which was something like a Russian empire and empires don’t contribute anything to a national identity either.

    I am thoroughly convinced that Russia has a lot to hope for in a strong and vital Israel that has nothing to do with its history of its relationship with Jews. But it remains that as long as Russians are in the grip of anti-semitism, they can only have a weak grasp of how the rest of the world works. Anti-semitism in the West is a much more leisurely indulgence. Europe can lie about the Jews and suffer little, while Russia seriously embraces the same lies and suffers a lot. Russian anti-semitism is a kind of toadying to the West.

    Russia’s posture as a world power is well deserved and can be a source of hope for a world better tempered by universal principles, but not as long as they continue to lap up nonsense in submission to the West.

  3. I wonder sometimes if any of your readers read the old scriptures where the Russia of the future is dealt with. The following is from Ezekiel 38: 14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy against Gog. Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord: When my people are living in peace in their land, then you will rouse yourself.[b] 15 You will come from your homeland in the distant north with your vast cavalry and your mighty army, 16 and you will attack my people Israel, covering their land like a cloud. At that time in the distant future, I will bring you against my land as everyone watches, and my holiness will be displayed by what happens to you, Gog. Then all the nations will know that I am the Lord.” Who is Gog, and Magog? Where is Russia in all the prophesy? Read on…..” 17 “This is what the Sovereign Lord asks: Are you the one I was talking about long ago, when I announced through Israel’s prophets that in the future I would bring you against my people? 18 But this is what the Sovereign Lord says: When Gog invades the land of Israel, my fury will boil over! 19 In my jealousy and blazing anger, I promise a mighty shaking in the land of Israel on that day. 20 All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. 21 I will summon the sword against you on all the hills of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord. Your men will turn their swords against each other. 22 I will punish you and your armies with disease and bloodshed; I will send torrential rain, hailstones, fire, and burning sulfur! 23 In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

    The message to Israel is to return to your roots, to God. Give Him the time He requires. Believe in Him. He will take care of you. We aren’t far away from the “end times” when God will step in as Israel is being mauled!

  4. First, thank you Sarah for exposing this news and then providing the history and perspective.

    Since the current version of Bibi is the focus, and for lack of time, I cc here my related comment to Caroline Glick’s interview by Leah Zinder on IBA.

    …Zinder amazingly channels two of the four questions. In the one who does not know how to ask, her thought process lacks capacity to do more than parrot dogma and mouth pre-planned talking points from the teleprompter. In her wickedness and disconnection from the Jewish people she mischievously stays on message with rhetorical questions. Zinder can fill two of four seats at the Seder table.

    Glick is the only one on-set forced to actually think and expose this journalistic ambush.

    I would like to congratulate Caroline for not strangling Leah Zinder right on the set. Glick was too kind to this amalgam of the two children masquerading as a sophisticated adult.

    Glick was also too kind, likely out of misplaced pragmatism of no other immediate options and blind hope toward Netanyahu. Netanyahu could be replaced by any number of much better people or a combination thereof. If she were Jewish, Sarah Palin with the proper advisors would be superior to Netanyahu. At least she knows the difference between right and wrong. Without advisors she would know not to give away a single sliver of our homeland. Check Sarah Honig’s take on Netanyahu and Putin this week. Netanyahu’s behavior on behalf of Israel is seriously wanting if not at times an absolute outrage, and I’d be willing to bet that in private Glick knows it well.

    If Netanyahu wants these ladies off his back, he better sit down in private with them and explain himself.

    Here’s a test. Give Netanyahu two close advisors, say Glick and Honig. Would Netanyahu listen, or would he forge ahead acting on ego and illusions to the past of younger days when his mind may well have been the brightest and cleverest? I don’t know, but his actions on the ground now certainly disqualify him from being the leader that Israel so desperately needs and deserves.

    The solution is that people must become educated about the world around them. Then they can elect leaders who actually have a functioning mind and a clue regarding things like history and the nature of Russia and Islam. If people are educated to the facts, then the answers are more easily determined. I recommend a gateway site to such information called (Caroline/Sarah, you can edit that plug for out if you wish)

    Hats off to Caroline Glick (and Sarah Honig) for identifying that the Jewish people are the righteous ones and that we are the ones deserving of our homeland in its entirety. I don’t have the wisdom to say how to go about that, but with knowledge of the world around us, I think we can arrive at the answers. And I can think of at least a pair of people who would most certainly be better for Israel than the current version of Bibi.

    With people like Zinder at the table, it will be difficult to conduct a Seder.

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