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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses the Hasidic pilgrimage theme to achieve its goals

Every year, thousands of Jewish Hasidic pilgrims come to the city of Uman, Cherkasy region, to celebrate the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah at the grave of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of Bratslav Hasidism, who died in 1810. Ukraine was expecting 50,000 Israeli believers this year, despite the Israeli Prime Minister urging them to postpone the trip. The reason for this clause was Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian propagandists use the Hasidic pilgrimage theme to portray Ukrainians as anti-Semitic, intimidate pilgrims, and worsen relations between Ukraine and Israel.

Last year, Russian propaganda stated that it could not ensure the safe stay of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims in Uman. That same year, Russian propagandists came up with a new message: Ukraine would deliberately attack pilgrims in Uman in order to obtain military assistance from Israel, including air defense systems. On April 28, 2023, Russia fired rockets at a 9-story building in the city of Uman, killing 23 people. Thus, Russian propagandists are trying to make a scapegoat out of Ukraine, absolving themselves of responsibility for the crimes of the Russians. Ukraine does not resort to terrorist methods to obtain weapons from Western partners, but acts exclusively along the diplomatic path.

The Russian Ministry of Defense disseminated information that Ukraine allegedly uses synagogues for military purposes. It is not true. This statement was commented on by the head of the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation, Nathan Ben Nun, and the head of the Jewish rescue organization Hatzalah Ukraine, Rabbi Hillel Cohen, who noted that “all shrines and religious objects of the Hasidic society are used exclusively for their intended purpose, namely for carrying out religious rituals and helping people”. Thus, Russian propaganda is trying to discredit the Defense Forces by disseminating information that Ukrainian military personnel are based in religious buildings, and to legitimize attacks on civilian infrastructure, residential buildings, and cultural monuments.

In Moldovan anonymous telegram channels broadcasting pro-Kremlin rhetoric, a message appeared that supposedly all conveniences were being created for Hasidim, while other citizens were not allowed to visit the airport. “Smacks of discrimination, doesn’t it?” – they wrote in one of the telegram channels. In fact, in order to eliminate all risks, access to the airport is currently limited to airport employees and passengers with airline tickets. Thus, Russian propaganda is trying to cause a negative attitude towards believers and stir up anti-Semitic sentiments, and discourage Hasidim from ever coming to Ukraine again.

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