Sunday, January 29, 2012

His kind of people

Nikolai Blinov, photo: collection  S. Levitsky

In the early Twentieth Century, the throne of the Czar – all-powerful,  repressive ruler of Russia – started to shake, especially after he embarked on a war against Japan which ended in a humiliating defeat. The revolutionary movement grew stronger.  In an attempt to distract the masses, the Czar and his government adopted a policy of active anti-Semitism. Racist thugs moved from city to city and initiated pogroms against Jewish communities, with police and army standing aside to give them a free hand.

Nikolai Ivanovich Blinov was at that time a student in Ukraine, and like many of his fellows an avowed opponent of the Czar's regime. He went into exile in Switzerland and in Geneva appeared in a theatrical performance denouncing anti-Semitism. He married and had two children. In 1905 he returned to the Czar's kingdom and went from Kiev to visit his parents at his native city of Zhitomir.

On 23 April 1905, the organizers of riots and pogroms arrived at Zhitomir. The local Jews were brutally attacked, and though they defended themselves as best they could, dozens of them were killed, hundreds injured and many houses destroyed. Nikolai Blinov was not a Jew, but felt he could not stand aside. He and his friend, Doctor Binstock, walked alone and unarmed towards the furious mob. "Brothers! My people! The Jews are not your enemies!" he called out. "You are being incited against them to make you forget your real  enemies, your oppressors!" 

Those were his last words. The crowd started shouting "Leftist traitors! Socialists! You're worse than the Jews!". Nikolai Blinov was beaten to death, his friend the doctor lost consciousness and barely survived. Nikolai Blinov's mother found his body at the Jewish hospital where the bodies of the pogrom victims were gathered. In his pocket was a last letter addressed to her in which he wrote "I could not do otherwise." He was 24 year old.

At the memorial ceremony held two weeks later, at the main synagogue of St. Petersburg, the cantor called Nikolai Blinov's name together with the names of the Jews killed in the pogrom. The Zhitomir Jewish community erected for him a memorial plaque. But over the years his name and act were forgotten. Only in recent years was this heroic story rediscovered, ceremonies held at his grave and a professor at an important Russian University wrote a book about him.

In our region, too, a memorial ceremony was held. To be precise, the ceremony to Nikolai Blinov was held at the University Center of the settlement of Ariel. At a settlement enclave in the heart of occupied territory,  surrounded by walls and fences and well-guarded by a large military force, not far from where settler "hilltop youths" set out at night for "price tag" actions, setting mosques and olive trees on fire. There the ceremony was held, and Blinov's photo, found in an archive, was given a central place on the podium, and the speakers rose one by one to praise his valor and supreme sacrifice. 

And there was a guest of honor in this ceremony - none other than Knesset Member Ze'ev Elkin, government coalition whip, the man who in recent years pushed very hard indeed to get many and diverse pieces of legislation enacted. The law which stipulates three years' imprisonment without trial to refugees and migrant workers, and the law empowering communities to set up admission committees and refuse admission to Arabs and others who do not fit the social fabric. These and many others are inscribed to the credit of Ze'ev Elkin, the Guest of Honor. And Nikolai Blinov's memorial was widely reported on right-wing websites, side by side with the initiatives of the Im Tirzu movement to demonstrate and cry out against Arabs and against the Leftist traitors who are even worse than the Arabs.

Had Nikolai Blinov come back to life in today's Israel, would he have stayed at that hall in Ariel, amidst the clapping for Ze'ev Elkin? In my humble opinion, the man who was not Jewish and yet came out to defend persecuted Jews would have rather joined the Israelis who are not Arabs and yet come out to protect the rights of Arabs, and who were born here and yet help refugees and migrant workers, and who stand shoulder to shoulder with Bedouins and Ethiopians and Sudanese. His kind of people.