August 13, 2008
Jews trapped on both sides of Russian-Georgian conflict
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Georgian Jews emigrating from their war-torn country arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel on Aug. 10, 2008. Photo by Abe Selig/JTA
"The American agencies are broadcasting and we're watching these lies meant to manipulate people," he said by telephone Monday.
Russian media have portrayed Saakashvili, the Columbia University-educated president who has courted U.S. favor and sought Georgia's membership in NATO, as a puppet of the West. They have broadcast a loop of his interviews with Western news organizations such as CNN and pronouncements from his presidential desk in English.
Petrushansky also had heard reports that Israel had provided weapons and military training to Georgia, which he likened to Germany under Hitler.
"Why is Israel helping Georgia? I'm so embarrassed about this," he said. "This is a war against Jews and they don't even understand it."
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz cited an anonymous senior defense official who said Israel feared that further aid to Georgia would provoke Russia into providing more advanced weaponry to Iran and Syria. Israel has sought to distance itself from Georgia since the conflict began.
Israel has a longstanding defense relationship with Georgia and over the years has sold rockets, night vision and aerial drones to the former Soviet republic. A drone that was shot down by Russian forces in the breakway republic of Abkhazia earlier this year came from Israel.
In contrast, soldiers and citizens in the midst of the fighting in northern Georgia have expressed a sense that the United States betrayed them by not providing more support as the conflict unfolded.
They see Russia's actions as heavy-handed, a return to the Soviet mentality in which neighbors are either puppets or enemies.
"Russia is in the middle of an act of aggression against Georgia," said Gregory Brodsky, the Jewish Agency's emissary to Tbilisi. "The attempt to take Abkhazia and Ossetia is obvious to the whole world as an attempt to create anew the Russian empire."
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, alongside a group that advocates for Jews in the former Soviet Union, NCSJ, released a statement rebuking Russia for its forays into Georgian territory and calling for an end to the hostilities.
"We urge that the cease-fire be implemented fully and immediately, and that the status quo be re-established," the statement said.
Local Jewish groups were more reluctant to take sides.
In Abkhazia, Russian forces have demanded that soldiers in the Georgia-controlled regions lay down their weapons
The Abkhazian capital Sukhumi is home to some 120 Jews who are no stranger to tanks and rebel armies prowling across the hilly seaside region, though the capital is on the coast far from where border skirmishes would take place.
Alexander Glusker, the chairman of Sukhumi's Jewish community, said that he and his fellow Jews are "Abkhazian patriots," though he shrugged at the possibility of Abkhazian independence in the near future. He said he had seen too many wars, three or four at last count, to become too excited.
"Russia will never let Georgia join NATO, and this is why we have the conflicts and the bombs in our South," he said. "We know there is tension in the mood but we're used to it. It's nothing. I think that everything will be civil before too long."
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