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'Jerusalem Post falsely claims Russian democracy activist made anti-Semitic remarks'

Just days before the Moscow mayoral election, opposition leader Alexei Navalny is accused of ‘toasting the Holocaust’ at a gathering. It never happened. 

By Vera Krichevskaya

On the morning of August 27 I opened my Twitter account as usual, and the first thing that caught my eye was a tweet with a bright red avatar: “Jerusalem Post: Moscow mayor hopeful raises Jewish fears with anti-Semitic remarks”.

Stunned, I clicked on the link. There, on the website of one of Israel’s oldest and best-known newspapers, I found the article under the same headline. It was illustrated with a large photograph of Alexei Navalny—a democracy activist, anti-corruption crusader and the leader of the Russian opposition, who is now running for mayor of Moscow. The sub-headline, in bold, states that “At a New York Times party, Russian blogger Alexei Navalny suggested making a toast for the Holocaust.” The article goes on to report that Navalny made several vile racist and anti-Semitic remarks, accusing him of inciting skinheads and of flirting with ultra-nationalist ideas.

Right after the first paragraph, the Jerusalem Post mentioned a different media organization: The New Times (not The New York Times). The New Times is a weekly political magazine, the only remaining independent magazine in Russia, for which I write as a freelancer.

Certainly, journalists sometimes make mistakes. But the story about Navalny and the Holocaust toast—just 10 days before the elections for mayor of Moscow—goes far beyond ordinary carelessness. It is an extremely grave and unfounded accusation.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (Mitya Aleshkovskiy/Wikimedia Commons)

Alexei Navalny— the political candidate who was the first in Russia to publicly call Vladimir Putin a thief and his party a “party of crooks”—is a famous anti-corruption crusader and democracy activist. Because of his activism several corrupt Russian officials lost their jobs. On July 18 2013, a Russian court sentenced him to five years on charges of embezzlement, following what was widely viewed as a politically motivated trial on trumped up charges. He was convicted of conspiring to defraud the local government of 16 million rubles ($500,000). Navalny’s lawyers have filed for an appeal. Pending his new trial Navalny is still permitted to run in the mayoral election, but he is forbidden to leave Moscow.

According to the Jerusalem Post article Navalny lifted his glass and toasted the Holocaust at a party held by The New Times staff. I am a friend of the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Yevgenia Albats who was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She also holds a doctorate in political science from Harvard. Yevgenia and I share political views and a commitment to journalistic ethics. We are also both very familiar with Navalny. We have written about his activities over the past few years, and have asked him uncomfortable and direct questions. Furthermore, Yevgenia and I are both Jews.

Yes, The New Times sometimes holds parties. They are rare, and very intimate. We read old poems of Soviet dissidents and prison letters of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch and former owner of Yukos, who has been in jail for 10 years due to what many believe is a vendetta pursued by Putin. We also read letters from Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who have been in prisons for the past year. I remember our last party, where indeed toasts were made. But I never saw Navalny make a toast to the Holocaust.

The article about the alleged anti-Semitic toast is appended with the note that Jerusalem Post newspaper staff contributed to the article. I wonder if any of them spoke with an eyewitnesses to this alleged incident.

But the main byline for the article is EJP, or the European Jewish Press. The EJP featured the article with the accusation against Navalny on its home page as of yesterday. Several marginal, pro-Kremlin websites have already reposted it many times.

The New Times frequently publishes articles about Jewish and Israeli life. In fact, Albats keeps kosher and each year invites employees to a Passover seder at her home, where each door is adorned with a mezuzah.

After reading the story a few times, I sent the Jerusalem Post article to Navalny himself to get his comments. At first he laughed: “Vera, imagine this: I’m standing in The New Times office, in front of Elbats, or you or your friends, and then I say, “Let’s drink to the Holocaust…” Do you seriously want me to comment on this nonsense?”

And then he added: “One thing that really amazed me, is how a Jewish publication (the EJP) and an Israeli newspaper easily use the Holocaust for political reasons.”

Albats told me unequivocally: “Navalny never uttered a single anti-Semitic word at the party. I wrote letters to many well-known Israeli journalists about it, tomorrow I’ll get back to the editor of the Jerusalem Post and I will demand a public apology. I sent letters to American newspapers, with only one message: “Do not believe this article.”

On her radio show for the station “Echo of Moscow,” Albats said on Wednesday: “I want to appeal to people with whom we have much in common, to people who read the Torah. The fact is, that this text is a lie from the first word to the last. This is a lie. We are old friends with Alexey. I know him very well. Do not believe this pre-ordered text, which has been reprinted from one site to another, and even got into the newspaper that I read—The Jerusalem Post. It is a disgusting campaign.”

I recall that during the The New Times party, Navalny spoke with Alla Gerber—president of the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Center, which is the only Russian non-governmental organization devoted to studying the experience of the Soviet Jews during the Holocaust. Today, Alla Gerber, who devoted her entire life to the memory of the Holocaust, commented on my blog: “I was at every New Times party, I remember Navalny very well. He never said anything about the Holocaust, he never made a toast to the Holocaust. This is provocation.”

I decided to do a short investigation into the origin of the article accusing Navalny of anti-Semitism. I found out that it was distributed by the Israeli Tal Rabina public relations agency on August 22, five days before the Jerusalem Post published the article. In fact, the article was a press release. The EJP and the Jerusalem Post republished it verbatim.

I wrote an e-mail to the agency asking about Navalny’s case, and Mr. Rabina answered me immediately: “If you have to talk with someone tonight, you can try Mr Alexey Muhkin, head of the Russian Center for Political Information.” Muhkin is a Moscow political technologist who has openly argued with Navalny during this election campaign. I spoke with Mr Mukhin, but he denies his involvement. But he knows this PR agency, and moreover he recently gave an interview to Mr Rabina. Mr Rabina confirmed to me that his client was from Moscow, but he declined to give any names.

What we are witnessing here is a PR campaign against Navalny. Someone in Moscow decided to falsely accuse Navalny of anti-Semitism, and did a very clever job: The story was published by various Jewish media outlets— including, unfortunately, reputable newspapers like the Jerusalem Post. A day later (10 days before election day) the Russian translation of the Jerusalem Post’s article has been reposted hundreds of times by pro-government Russian media outlets— i.e., by publications that have an anti-Navalny agenda.

And that is the sum of this entire, sad story.

I don’t know why the Jerusalem Post failed to do some basic fact checking. But the bottom line is that, inadvertently or not, they have allowed the brand name of a well-known Israeli media outlet to be used in a dirty political game.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has since published a JTA report with denials from various Jewish Russian figures that Navalny ever toasted the Holocaust: http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Moscow-mayoral-candidate-did-not-praise-Holocaust-Jewish-staffers-say-324630

Read more:
Jerusalem Post compares labeling settlement products to Nazism
Jerusalem Post op-ed calls New Yorker editor ‘anti-Israel’

Vera Krichevskaya is an independent TV producer and director, co-founder of the Russian TV channel Dozhd, and a contributor at The New Times magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @krichevskaya.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Well, as it happens, today JPost have a disavowal just like yours, this time lifted from the JTA. But personally, I write off Navalny as one of the US State Dept’s clowns.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Paul

      Maybe the author should also check how this information got from Moscow to EJP and why they published it. If the author would like to contact this email address I can help you on that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Natacha

        hi,

        I would love to hear more about how the information got to EJP please email me to: natacha1980aa@gmail.com

        Reply to Comment
    3. Marina

      I look forward to the appearance of this content in ALL russian medias reprinted hideous lie of Jerusalem Post newspaper.

      Reply to Comment
      • anna

        And the reason you care about Russian media so much is?

        Reply to Comment
      • anna

        Idiotic Soviets will remain idiotic Soviets forever.
        What can more “stupider” than this.

        Reply to Comment
    4. anna

      I think it’s time to redefine the definition of chutzpah:
      To babble about journalistic ethics on the 972 site.

      Reply to Comment
    5. From: Vera Krichevskaya
      Date: 29/08/2013 18:02 (GMT+02:00)
      To: mail talrabina
      Subject: Re: navalny

      ok, I’ll correct your text

      thank you

      Sent from IPhone Vera Krichevskaya

      On 29.08.2013, at 9:57, “mail@talrabina.co.il” wrote:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdIyF2fMFKc

      Hi Vera,

      Thank you for sending me the text.

      As I recall, I put things slight differently:

      “I have no interest in any election campaign in Moscow, and this is why we did not sent it to any media outlet in Russia.

      The person who approached me and myself, are very disturbed by the fact that once again, a fascist and xenophobic ideology is about to get Legitimacy in a democratic election due to a very charismatic personality who knows how to manipulate his public.

      I agreed to alert the Israeli public opinion to this matter, because It is too much of a “deja vo” to the political changes in
      Europe during the 1930s.

      For me, it doesn’t matter at all which minorities this gentleman is slandering, and I am sure any real liberal group cannot support such attitude, even if they can absolutely agree with his reported pursuit of unveiling corruption.

      Best,

      Tal.

      From: Vera Krichevskaya
      Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2013 4:53 PM
      To: mail talrabina
      Subject: navalny

      Hello Tal, this is your two quotation:

      “I do not participate in the election campaign in Moscow, I do not care about your choices, I’m worried about a question of nationalism, the timing of my job, of the material simply coincided with your election campaign, and more: it is not only about Jews, but also in all other minorities”
      “I was approached by a serious man from Moscow, who wants to prevent the rise of nationalism”

      thank you


      Best regards
      Vera Krichevskaya
      Skype: krichevskaya
      Facebook: vera krichevskaya
      +79037

      Reply to Comment
    6. vera krichevskaya

      Mr Rabina, all your approved comments and screenshots of your e-mail that I mentioned in this blog will be published on Monday in The New Times Magazine, Ill send you the link, and you will be able to translate it in Hebrew and check.
      In this your comment I discovered LACK of correspondence with original of our e-mails, even here in this independent magazine you are trying to juggling with facts and distribute it. Please ask your assistants (you said you hired russian native speakers to make a research) to make a literal translation of each video clips and screenshots you distribute. And please reveal your evidence about horrific toast. Alexey Navalny is not my hero, but I respect him. Last time I made an interview with him in the end of July, my main unpleasant question was if he ready to join to muslim rally if it will happen? Honestly, we dont have anti-semitic discourse now in Russia at all, but we have huge problems with violence of gay rights, with anti-muslims discourse and problem with illegal migrants. Intentionally I asked Navalny about muslims, he answered very clear: “If something is compelled moscow muslims to go to rally in streets I’ll join them”.I can send you the link of the interview. And moreover your Russian helpers didnt provide you many videoclips where russian skinheads ruins his debates and meetings.Navalny has filed several complaints about skinheads in the Russian prosecutor’s office, it’s ridiculous that in this initiative only one political movement supported it, its party “Yabloko”, which is expelled him from the party 5- 6 years ago because of his participation in Russian protest march. The prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case on the complaint Navalny against skinheads, unfortunately – there are no results …

      Reply to Comment
      • anna

        OK, so there is not discussion of antisemitism in Russia, but your concerns are Muslim rights, gay rights, etc.
        I guess you are right – apparently there is no antisemitism in Russia. After all you know best – as a Jew.
        Pure undiluted evil.

        Reply to Comment
    7. anna

      You see, Vera, I trust you and I went to see this wonderful The New Times. Guess what was the first sentence I read on the front page:
      “Я хорошо помню тот момент, когда решила: хочу учиться в Гарварде. Это был девяносто второй год, я приехала в лучший университет мира на специальную журналистскую программу (Nieman Fellowship) и пришла в библиотеку Гарварда — Wiidener Library, вторую библиотеку мира (первая — Библиотека Конгресса США”
      So, what do we have here? Self promotion, typos, and, of course … the lie.
      I assume that Evgenia uses the known criterion (I was there so it must be the best, but to say that Widener Library is the first would be to obvious, hence the second place).
      Now, by all all known me criteria this library isn’t “the second.” Secondly, an educated person would never use this “the second library.”
      Hmmm. I see some problems there.
      BTW, how did it happen that she graduated from Moscow University. It must have been her brilliance. Yeah. So say “russkie narodnye skazki.”
      And the name Olga she chose for her daughter is because … the Russian translations of the Hebrew Bible say that’s a Jewish name, or … for some other reason. So, when is she Jewish? Only on such occasions when it’s convenient to call an antisemite a non-antisemite or on some other occasions?

      Reply to Comment
      • vera krichevskaya

        Dear Anna, I don’t know what are you talking about, I have no idea about library, I can say just about myself, i have two sons, one of them has Jewish name, other – very strange and very rare serbian name, some times it happens, my name – Vera, it is very old russian name, but I’m still Jewish!

        Reply to Comment
        • anna

          Yes, I know that things happen. Things happen … that you defend an antisemite, things happen that you do it on one of the most antisemitic websites I’ve seen recently, things happen that you attack a great Jewish paper, but promote a rag.
          Such things don’t happen to Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • anna

            Well, you actually confirm that indeed Navalny is an antisemite.
            And then he added: “One thing that really amazed me, is how a Jewish publication (the EJP) and an Israeli newspaper easily use the Holocaust for political reasons.”
            This is a favorite shtick of silencing Jews, neo-Nazis use.

            Reply to Comment
        • anna

          Yes, Verochka. I see your point. Old is good. And of course old Jewish names don’t exist. So, I have a list of names I would recommend for your grandchildren:
          - Ioann (old, very old). You can choose to name after really old Ioann(Evangelist) – millions, millions, many millions of slaughtered Jews during the last two millennia, or slightly younger Ioann (Zlatousty) less successful in slaughtering Jews for a simple reason … Jews were not allowed where HIS followers, the Olgas, the Veras, the Sergeys etc. lived.
          Bohdan – the old Ukrainian name (100 thousands of slaughtered Jews immediately, more later) Actually there is an inspirational contemporary description of his deeds (Abyss by Nathan Hannover). Yes, a wonderful old name.
          -Adolf – old German name (check with your friend Alla.
          The list of old good names is of course much longer, but I do have to do other things.
          Good luck with your decisions.

          Reply to Comment
    8. anna

      BTW, Vera, if Alla Gerber spends her parties being attached to Napalny everywhere (including bathrooms), shouldn’t this fact be mentioned in the article?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Haim

      I am fully on board with remonsrations against the JP which published a clear PR release without bothering to verify the accusations. However, I don’t understand how Navalny is being painted as a progressive candidate. Just because he didn’t toasted the Holocaust but posted a dubious joke at his blog, doesn’t mean he didn’t march with Russian ultra-nationalists and anti-Semites at “Russian March” under the Romanov dinasty banner which is a symbol of the Russian People’s Union – a Jew-bating group from the times of the last tzar. He is also well-documented making racial and ethnic slurs – just not against Jews. So are we really comfortable with him just because he didn’t mock the Shoah?

      Reply to Comment
      • anna

        Haim,
        Several things.
        We actually can’t be sure that he didn’t say, we can’t be sure that if he said it wasn’t a provocation, we can’t be sure that there was no framing of JP in a hope to whitewash Navalny’s past, to conceal his nature and to silence Jewish criticism. Remember you are dealing with the Albats (whatever the plural) and the arguments in the style “I didn’t hear, so it didn’t happened.”
        Personally, I didn’t hear many things, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen.
        Navalny is as despicable as one can be and the so called “Jews” are promoting him.
        These are the facts we do know.

        Reply to Comment

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