OpinionMiddle East

Russification and Arabization: Two sides of the same coin

Just as Putin believes Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent state, so haters of Israel are convinced the Jewish state has no right to exist.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Shutterstock.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Shutterstock.
Micha Danzig
Micha Danzig
Micha Danzig served in the Israeli army and is a former police officer with the New York Police Department (NYPD). An attorney, he is active with a number of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including StandWithUs, T.E.A.M. and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).

Anyone paying attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict over the last 20 years knows how those who regularly propagandize on behalf of the Palestinian Arab cause try to hijack every cause or crisis in the world and make it about Israel and the Palestinians. Given this penchant, that so many notorious haters of Israel—from Shaun King to Rashida Tlaib to Huwaida Arraf—have tried to claim that Ukrainians fighting against the Russian invasion are the same as Hamas and Fatah terrorists trying to murder Israelis, is not surprising.

However, before Russia invaded Ukraine, no Ukrainian militias were indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets into Russia. No Ukrainian leaders were claiming Russia had no right to exist, falsely claiming Russians don’t have any history in Russia. They were not inciting their people to kill random Russians while offering Ukrainians “pay to slay” incentive compensation packages amounting to eight times the average Ukrainian teacher’s salary in exchange for murdering Russians.

Most people understand that these false comparisons are specious. What is surprising, however, is how few people understand the strong connection between the Russification ideology and history, which animates Putin and Russia’s latest effort to conquer and colonize Ukraine, and the Arabization ideology and history, which has animated, for over a century, the continuous violent rejection of Jewish nationhood and sovereignty in the Middle East. 

In Putin’s Feb. 21 speech announcing Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, he said: 

“I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. The first is really the main one: why was it necessary to appease the nationalists, to satisfy the ceaselessly growing nationalist ambitions on the outskirts of the former empire? What was the point of transferring to the newly, often arbitrarily formed administrative units—the union republics—vast territories that had nothing to do with them? Let me repeat that these territories were transferred along with the population of what was historically Russia.”

Putin previously made similar ahistorical claims about Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, claiming they too had no business being independent countries because they really were just part of the greater Russian nation.

Most people in both Ukraine and the Baltic states speak Russian. They do so because it was the state language of the Soviet Union, mandated everywhere and forced on these countries in a broad Russification campaign during the Soviet era. But the Russification of these separate nations and peoples started far earlier in Russian history, dating back as far back as the 1500s. And it became an official part of the Russian Empire’s imperialist policies under Czar Alexander III in the 1880s. What both unofficial and official Russification meant in practice was the coerced use of the Russian language as well as the repression of all other nationalities and cultures.

This policy of Russification, under both the czars and Soviet dictators like Stalin, was meant to destroy all aspects of the separate cultural, linguistic and national identities of the peoples and nations the Russians conquered—including Ukraine. It is why, during a March 3, 2022 meeting with the Russian Security Council, Putin said: “I will never give up my conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one nation.” Putin meant this statement as a justification for Russian imperialism and for once again turning Ukraine into a vassal state of Russia, without any regard for the right of the Ukrainian people to sovereignty and self-determination.

By the same token, Arabization, including of Judea/Palestine, which began in the seventh century, was also implemented to destroy the separate ethnic identities, languages and cultures of the various tribes and peoples conquered during the Arab Empire’s conquests throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Arabization has been such a powerful force behind the almost complete Arab hegemony and control of the MENA that until 2014 it was illegal in relatively moderate Morocco for parents to give their children non-Arabic names, even though Morocco was originally Amazigh (Berber) for centuries before the Arab conquest of North Africa and a large percentage of its population to this day (despite centuries of institutional and systemic Arabization) still identifies as Amazigh.

And while Putin has repeatedly given voice over the past two weeks to the Russian imperialist and eliminationist idea that Ukraine has no legitimacy as an independent country, that same mantra has been regularly preached by Arab supremacists in connection with movements for greater sovereignty, independence, or even equality in parts of their indigenous lands by Kurds, Copts, Amazigh and Jews. 

It is plain that the history of Russification and Soviet control of Ukraine has deeply influenced Putin’s view of Ukraine, such that he admittedly “will never give up his conviction” that Ukraine has no business being an independent country. Similarly, Arab dictators and theocrats, since the start of the Jewish independence and indigenous rights movement (Zionism) gaining momentum in the 20th century, have been adamant—due to the history of systemic Arabization and Islamization in MENA—that the Jewish people have no right to an independent country, and that any such country, no matter how small, is illegitimate and must be destroyed.

Regarding Jewish independence and sovereignty in the Jewish people’s indigenous, historical and religious homeland one can find statements remarkably similar to Putin’s conviction (about the alleged illegitimacy of Ukrainian independence) in Article 15 of the Hamas Charter and Article 20 of the PLO Charter. 

While Article 15 of the Hamas Charter focuses on the idea that once land has become (through conquest) “Islamic land” it can never revert back (“[w]hen our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims”), Article 20 of the PLO Charter (also known as the Palestinian National Covenant) expressly denies the Jewish people their agency, their peoplehood and their legitimacy as a nation. 

Thus, it is quite clear that it is not only fake claims about “genocide” and bogus allegations about “Nazis” that Israel haters have in common with Putin. It is also the denial of separate identities for those who were subjected for centuries to imperialist campaigns to destroy them—those who, despite Russification and Arabization, retained their unique identities, languages and cultures, who worked, fought for and earned their respective rights to sovereign and independent states. Both Putin and those who hate Israel are convinced that these states have no right to exist and wish to eliminate them.

Micha Danzig served in the Israeli Army and is a former police officer with the NYPD. He is currently an attorney and is very active with numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, including StandWithUs and the FIDF, and is a national board member of Herut North America.

This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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