Tel Aviv and Makhachkala, the capital of the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, are more than 1,600km apart. And despite the northern Caucasus being more than a three-hour flight from Palestine and Israel, the images of a mob roaming Dagestan’s main international airport on Sunday, searching for Jews and Israelis, demonstrate the conflict’s malign ability to animate ugly prejudice, far away from the scene of the fighting.
Sadly, the shocking display of anger and bigotry on show in Makhachkala – where hundreds of people broke into a secure area to target passengers who had recently arrived from Tel Aviv – is far from being the only outburst of hate seen since this latest tragic chapter of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict began.
Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese condemned anti-Israel protesters after activists at the Sydney Opera House were filmed chanting violent and obscene anti-Semitic slurs. In London, the Metropolitan Police have sought two women who were pictured wearing images of Hamas paragliders during a pro-Palestinian demonstration, and videos have also surfaced online of virulently anti-Semitic sermons being delivered at a number of mosques in the US and UK. It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of pro-Palestinian and pro-peace marches have been peaceful and most protesters have shunned anti-Semitic and hateful rhetoric.
At the same time, attacks on Muslims and instances of hate speech against Arabs are also on the rise in several countries. Most recently, student dormitories at Israel's Netanya Academic College were closed after clashes reportedly broke out between Jewish and Arab students on Saturday night, with a large crowd filmed chanting “death to Arabs” outside the residential building. Likewise, many mixed communities live in peace with one another but there has been an uptick in hate crimes.
Apart from the inherently senseless and repugnant nature of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, a common theme in some of these incidents is the ascribing of collective responsibility to an entire group of people for the actions of a few.
Jews and Israelis are not accountable for the way the Israeli military is killing thousands of non-combatants in Gaza. Similarly, Palestinians, as a nation, should not be tarred with the same brush as Hamas, which killed and brutalised hundreds of civilians on October 7.
To claim that Palestinians deserve punishment because they support Hamas – a dangerous and highly questionable assumption, as The National’s columnist James Zogby wrote last week – or to insist that the Israeli public or Jews around the world be held indiscriminately accountable for the actions of the Israeli army is both wrong and illogical.
In this highly charged atmosphere, the onus is on everyone affected to choose their words and actions judiciously and with care. For those who care about the Palestinian people, tolerating, minimising or excusing outbursts of anti-Semitism is to damage the cause. Anti-Muslim or anti-Arab prejudice is equally intolerable.
But there is also a responsibility on those in positions of authority to allow people to express themselves within the limit of the law. A report this week from the UK revealed that London’s Metropolitan Police was to step up “intelligence-gathering” among children at schools, amid fears that community tensions were being exacerbated by the Israel-Gaza war. A desire to counter hatred and prejudice is one thing, policing the views of minors is quite another.
Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia did not begin with the current terrible cycle of violence; both these toxic phenomena have complex historical roots. But the distressing scenes from Dagestan should serve as a reminder that a failure to find genuine solutions risks compromising the lives of all innocent people, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian.