Soviet Propaganda against Jews

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Reading Time: 5 minutes


Anti-Semitic propaganda and policy have always taken an important place in the history of Russia. Since the period of Russian Empire, Jewish people had been subject to various forms of persecution: they were resettled to a specially designated territory, while being forbidden to settle down on a specific land throughout the Empire. During the same period and in the aftermath, the Jews were blamed for a variety of social or economic problems. They were perceived as “supporters of the Ottoman Sultan” and some people even tried to portray them as enemies.

Although the Soviet Union granted more privileges to the Jews (special settlements were abolished; like other minorities, they obtained equal rights; several Jews, including Lev Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Yakov Sverdlov were appointed on official positions), anti-Semitic propaganda and policy remained high on the agenda and even strengthened further in the Stalin era.

A specially created book “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is a clear manifestation of anti-Semitic propaganda in Russia.

The book “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

  • Protocols of the Elders of Zion

This propaganda book tells the story about the meetings of Jewish leaders, the so-called Elders of Zion, who are preparing various secret plans to ultimately rule the world. The Protocols were forgeries compounded by officials of the Russian secret police (Okhranka) and they aimed at blaming Jews for a variety of economic and social problems. The book was created by two disinformation experts – Matvei Golovinski and Pyotr Rachkovsky. Their work gained huge popularity, including in Nazi Germany, and was actively used to promote the persecution of Jews.

It is noteworthy that this propaganda and conspiracy book was actively used later by the Soviet security committee (KGB). The Soviet Union used the book to provoke anti-Semitic and anti-Western attitudes in Muslim countries. Moreover, the Soviet Union actively distributed the Arabic translation of the book in the Islamic world.

  • Anti-Semitic propaganda in the Soviet Union

In 1950-1953, Harvard University conducted a study on the Soviet Social System with about 693 interviews conducted with Soviet émigrés (former Soviet citizens). Along with other issues, the study revealed the attitudes and sentiments towards the Jews in that particular society.

An extract from one of the interviews of the Harvard study, where a respondent talks about the Jews

The study outlined the key stereotypes existing in the Soviet Union, which were further reinforced by the state policy. The following stereotypes are worth noting:

  • Jews are aggressive
  • Jews occupy a privileged position in Soviet society
  • Jews are business and money-minded
  • Jews are sly, calculating, manipulative, and know how “to use a situation.”

In addition, a respondent notes in one of the interviews that “Jews kill a child each Passover and . . . drink the blood at that time.”

It is noteworthy that not only the Soviet government did not combat anti-Semitism, but it further strengthened it through propagandizing anti-Semitic attitudes in the public. The first manifestation of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union was undoubtedly the conflict between Stalin and Trotsky prompting the state propaganda machine to intensify its anti-Semitic messages.

“A Jew is a Trotskyist, a Trotskyist is a Jew.”

Furthermore, Trotsky had already been used by the White Army as an anti-Semitic propaganda tool before that once again demonstrates a deep problem of anti-Semitism persisting in Russia.

Cartoon depicting Trotsky

Although the Communists used the codename “Rats” for both Jews and Zionists, anti-Semitic propaganda was ceased during the World War II. The Communists tried to present Soviet Russia to the West as a normal peaceful state.

Later, still in the Stalin era, the propaganda against Jews significantly intensified that is confirmed by the so-called Doctors’ Plot. 

  • • Doctors’ Plot (1951-1953)

Doctors’ Plot is an alleged conspiracy of prominent Soviet medical specialists to murder leading government and party officials. The prevailing opinion of many scholars outside the Soviet Union is that Joseph Stalin intended to use the resulting doctors’ trial to launch a massive party purge. It is noteworthy that just this accusation prompted an anti-Semitic propaganda campaign unleashed in the Soviet Union in that period.

During that period, the Soviet government published various anti-Semitic messages through the media. Various newspapers were writing about the threats related to Zionism and generally the Jews. The government was spreading pamphlets with anti-Semitic messages. One million copies of a pamphlet were prepared for distribution with the title:

“Why Jews Must Be Resettled from the Industrial Regions of the Country.”

A cartoon related to Doctors’ Plot printed in Krokodil newspaper

  • Anti-Semitic propaganda in the post-Stalin era

The anti-Semitic propaganda was still strong in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. It was mainly caused by the Cold War and Jewish-Arabic confrontation, where the Soviets supported Arab states. During Brezhnev’s time, many Jews became involved in the opposition movement that further intensified the campaign targeting them.

The propaganda of that period was mainly anti-Zionist in nature (Zionism: a national liberation movement for the establishment of the Jewish state). Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda entered a particularly active stage following the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in 1967, when the Soviet Union decided to portray Zionists as racists. The propaganda and disinformation campaign that the Soviets developed then demonized Israel and Zionism, establishing false links between Zionism and Nazism. The propaganda machine linked the following terms to Zionism: genocide, imperialism, racism, apartheid, militarism and settler-colonialism.

Zionism – Tool of Imperialism

Soviet anti-Semitic cartoons of the 1960s-1970s

Pravda Vostoka 1971; Abramov 1969; Gadimov 1967; Gadimov 1970; Zenin 1971; Pravda Vostoka 1968; Ternavsky, Bakinsky 1971

Multiple manifestations of anti-Semitism are still indicated in modern Russia. Although Russian propaganda seeks to mask the real picture of the Russian anti-Semitism, it fails to do so in many cases. Anti-Semitic slogans were also strongly emphasized when Russian President Putin was dealing with the oligarchs, pointing to the Jewish roots of some of them (Boris Berezowski and Mikhail Khodorkovsky), like it happened in the Soviet era to diminish separate individuals.

Topic: History

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