Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, earning the epithet “Europe’s last dictator” along the way. Now, after his suppression of local opposition protests, one can add more descriptions: “last blood-soaked dictator” and “last antisemitic dictator” because people with such twisted ideas haven’t held power in Europe since World War II.
After winning the 2020 elections through massive fraud, Lukashenko launched a terror campaign against his country and his people. Some 10 people have been killed during demonstrations; hundreds have fled abroad and over 4,000 political prisoners are being held. They include popular blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. The authorities placed him under lock and key the moment they saw him as a realistic candidate for the presidency. In that same trial, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, which the regime refuses to register, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while two other bloggers were given 15 years each.
One can understand how hated the dictator is based on estimates that Tikhanovsky’s wife Sviatlana, who submitted her candidacy in his stead, received 80 percent of the votes in the election.
Lukashenko, who seized control of the country where Marc Chagall, Isaac Asimov, Chaim Weizmann and Menachem Begin were born, has a track record as an antisemite. He shocked the world when he compared Bobruisk, a predominantly Jewish city, to a pigsty. “After all, it is a Jewish city, and the Jews do not take care of the place where they live,” he said. In 2015, he called on the head of his administration to keep “all the Jews under control.”
Regime propagandists are attacking Jews to explain the mass demonstrations against the man they venerate, describing them as part of the mythic “Jewish conspiracy” and as attempts to overthrow “the legitimate government.”
A few days ago, Lukashenko outdid himself when a female member of parliament representing the government, Lilia Ananich, submitted a draft law titled “On the Genocide of the Belarusian People,” a bill many see as damaging to the memory of the Holocaust, if not outright denial of it. With the wave of a hand, the Jews were included among the Belarusian people, just like the Turkmen, Gypsies, Russians and other Soviet citizens who lived on Belarusian territory and were murdered by the Nazis.
The bill’s author “forgot” that the Jews – contrary to the Belarusians, for example – were murdered only because they were Jews. However, there is not a word about the Holocaust in Lukashenko’s Belarus. Even when it comes to the Maly Trostenets extermination camp, one of the biggest in Europe, in which the Jews of the Minsk ghetto were murdered, the dictator’s representatives do not speak of the Jews but rather “the Belarusian people.”
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Lukashenko’s Belarus has no property restitution law and never will. Contrary to many countries, the property of Jews murdered there will never be returned to anyone. It is only possible to try things such as bringing back into use old synagogues, if they are currently not in use as public buildings.
The dictator uses Jews, and indirectly Israel, at every opportunity to explain the protests against him. In other words, he is promoting a simple antisemitic idea: anything bad merits searching for the hand of Israel, the Jewish lobby, the Mossad; evil always wears a Star of David around its neck. “Schlimazels and schnorrers” read a subheadline in an article by the state press attacking historian Alexander Friedman, who can express himself freely because he was deported from his native Belarus and lives in Germany.
A few days ago security forces broke into the home of an Israeli citizen, software engineer Daniel (Dzmitry) Plashchynski, after learning he had visited “extremist” Telegram channels and corresponded with their editors. As proof of his malicious deeds, they published on the Administration Responsible for the Fight against Organized Crime and Corruption’s official Telegram channel a photo of Plashchynski’s valid and expired Israeli passports against the background of the Belarusian opposition’s red and white flag. They placed a rifle next to them, sending a clear message: See, the Jews are preparing the revolution.
Belarusian state television recently broadcast a film, “Killing of the President,” in which “Jewish circles” are behind a fictitious assassination attempt of Lukashenko and his son. Need more? The state-run newspaper Belarus Segodnya added snatches of “Hatikva” to a clip about refugees trying to cross the Belarusian border into Poland, deleting the music only after it caused an uproar.
In another incident, Israeli Alexander Fruman, who was in Minsk on vacation, was detained for three days by security forces even though he didn’t participate in protests. They beat him and threatened to give him “another circumcision,” he said. His confiscated passport was lost. Two other Israeli citizens were detained at that time, and to the best of my knowledge none of them received assistance from the Israeli consulate. And that’s not all. Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which is ready to dispute Polish authorities, sent its ambassador to Belarus to present his credentials to the dictator – an act that Western ambassadors avoid.
The presence of Israel’s ambassador gives very little help to Belarusian Jews, who live in an atmosphere of state-sponsored antisemitism, or to others who identify with them. After Zinaida Timashuk, the chairwoman of a Belarusian language society, laid flowers at the place in Slutsk where the Nazis destroyed the Jewish ghetto, she was arrested for three days and fined the relatively high amount of about $500. The reason for the fine? Organizing an unauthorized demonstration.
Israel was founded partly as a refuge for Jews suffering oppression abroad. My roots are Belarusian, as is the case with many other Israelis. I observe daily how a confused dictator, who holds onto power with the police’s help, plays the antisemitism card. Although this behavior endangers Jewish lives, we see and hear no response at all from the Israeli government or Foreign Ministry. Israel stubbornly refuses to join Western nations in condemning the dictator and his dictatorship. It’s shameful. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that any attempt to appease antisemitic dictators has ended badly for the Jews.
Leonid Nevzlin owns 25 percent of Haaretz and is a member of its board.