I sometimes forget why I’m doing this Soviet Jewry thing. Or, not so much forget, as get distracted. The present is just so very busy. It has heft, carries more weight. Egypt. Wikileaks. Obama’s State of the Union. Women in Magazines. CRTC Rulings. Mayoral Elections. G20.
In other words, shouldn’t I be talking about something a little more current, with more impact? The story of the Soviet Jewish immigration isn’t going away anywhere. Despite my cynicism about the business of tweeting our way through world events, I still sometimes wonder whether I shouldn’t be adding my voice to the hashtag cacophony?
A few stories this week though reminded me of why the things I’m mostly thinking and writing about these days aren’t so far removed from what’s going on in the world and remain relevant two decades after the Soviet collapse.
One of those is “Dissonance,” on the Tablet site about Larisa Trembovler, the wife of Yigal Amir, who happens to be the convicted assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They met and married after he was imprisoned. Now, she’s trying to re-brand him as a Soviet-style political hero, comparing him to Natan Sharansky, so famously imprisoned by the USSR for his participation in the Soviet Jewry movement. Trembovler, it happens, is a former Soviet Jew herself.
Thanks in part to his Russian wife, the public image of Yigal Amir—an Israeli-born Orthodox Jew of Yemenite heritage—has been gradually evolving in the eyes of a sizable minority from that of a prime minister’s assassin into a Soviet-style dissident, imprisoned for his political views.
It’s a long article, about someone who should by all rights have remained an obscure nobody. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but basically, Trembovler has co-opted the retoric of a movement that fought the totalitarian Soviet regime, co-opted the sentiments that people still have around that time period and people like Sharansky, and is using it to make a case for her husband. That she is getting anywhere with this tactic is troubling.
It’s astounding to me that someone could think an assassin of a democratically elected leader is a political prisoner in the same way that an activist for emigration rights is a political prisoner. That her efforts are attracting attention, even if mostly among the extreme right, speaks to how quickly we forget our past. How history can get so twisted and be manipulated. And how easily we can be swayed.
I know I’m not pointing out anything new here. Spend five minutes online, or on Twitter, or even just eavesdropping on strangers on the subway, and you’ll see just how fast misinformation spreads.
I think too sometimes that the ease with which someone like Trembovler can turn an assassin into a political prisoner is a side effect of living in comfort and ease—we lose our sense of perspective, and all horrors, evils, or hardships (call it what you will) start to look the same.
For me, it’s a reminder that the interviews and research I’m doing into the Soviet Jewish immigration remains relevant today.
I suppose it would be too easy to mention a certain American and her Sputnik moment… so I’ll just leave it there.