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Interview with U.S. Army Europe Former Commanding General Ben Hodges; Interview with Yale University Professor of Modern Jewish History Eliyahu Stern. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 09, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Putin marks World War II Victory Day with no major declarations.
And I get reaction from Russia's first-post Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory.
AMANPOUR: President Zelenskyy vows to fight until the end. U.S. General Ben Hodges joins me with his latest battlefield assessment.
ELIYAHU STERN, YALE UNIVERSITY: What we see is a ratcheting up of discourse of demonizing liberal, secular and progressive Jews around the
world, both by Jews themselves and by anti-Semites.
AMANPOUR: Yale Professor Eliyahu Stern talks to Hari Sreenivasan about the troubling rise in anti-Semitism around the world.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It was perhaps the most anticipated Victory Day parade in recent memory. Russian military might was on full display this morning in Moscow.
Thousands of troops marched in Red Square chanting patriotic slogans, marking the end of World War II.
But President Vladimir Putin, while defiant, delivered a relatively short speech without declaring victory in Ukraine, or even formally declaring war
and mass mobilization, or indeed any battlefield plans at all. Instead, Putin again defended his actions and again claimed that he had no other
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The danger -- every day, Russia gave a preemptive rebuff to aggression. It was a forced,
timely and the only right decision, the decision of a sovereign, strong and independent country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Afterwards, in Kyiv, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, delivered his Victory Day message, calling Russia's invasion a
war of two world views, Moscow against Ukrainian freedom and democracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): It annoys them. It is unfamiliar to them. It scares them. Its essence is that we are free people who have their own
path. Today, we are waging war on this path, and we will not give anyone a single piece of our land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Andrei Kozyrev has unique insight into the Kremlin leadership. He served as the Russian Federation's first foreign minister in
His memoir is called "The Firebird: The Elusive Fate of Russian Democracy." And he's joining me now from Miami.
Welcome back to the program, Foreign Minister.
And I just wonder, your reaction to what President Putin actually didn't say today on the platform.
ANDREI KOZYREV, FORMER RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Hi, Christiane. I'm actually in Washington, D.C., but it does not matter.
What matters, that he demonstrated, I think, two important things. One is that he is in his right mind, in a very primitive sense, that he is not
mad, he did not announce anything which would undermine further his stance in Russia. So he is a very rational actor. And he will never press the
nuclear button. That is why it's important, and the West should not be timid in its response.
Number two is that he engages in blatant and mind-boggling propaganda and distortion of the reality. He tries to sell his aggression, which reminds
very much of the Nazi aggression during the Second World War, which cost 24 million lives in Russia.
That included, of course, Ukraine, which was occupied. And now he tries to occupy Ukraine under this pretext, which is repulsive. And it's blasphemy
towards the sacred memory of that allied, where Ukraine fought against real Nazi. And now it has to fight against the -- Putin's regime.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because I am really interested in what you said, because, as a Russian and as a foreign minister, you are saying that
what Putin Russian did was address the Russian people. He did or said nothing that could compromise himself and his battlefield action with his
One of the things that you wrote before this parade was that you hoped no foreign dignitary would be there, so that Russian people, on their
television, could see that fact and ask themselves, why?
And, of course, no foreign dignitary was there. Do you really think that will impact the Russian people? And what might they be thinking about this
current war or special military operation, as they are told it is?
KOZYREV: Yes, of course.
You know, I am thinking of anything which could penetrate the iron curtain of the propaganda. The Russian people, a large part of Russian people, are
still watching the TV. And TV is totally controlled by the government.
And that presents totally a distorted picture for them. But I know that millions of people, like my humble self, I always like to see this parade,
because it is a victory of the Allied forces over Nazi, the main probably a success in the whole Russian history, and Ukraine and Russia contributed a
So, the people are watching. And every year, notably, the commentators would make an issue that there are many diplomats, many dignitaries, and
counting those heads of states and everything and also -- and, once, President Clinton was at the ceremony.
I kind of transmitted to him invitation, and explained how important it would be if he came to the Red Square to support a democratic government in
Russia at that time. So -- and he did.
So people are noticing those things, I'm sure. And that would probably penetrate to their minds that something wrong this time, because they have
totally distorted picture of the whole situation.
AMANPOUR: That's really very, very interesting.
I want to pick up another thing you just told me. Because of what he said and how he said, you said, the West should not be timid now. And you said
very clearly that he will not, President Putin, ever push the nuclear button.
When you say not be timid, what exactly do you mean? Because it does look like the West is actually amping up its support for Ukraine in this fight.
KOZYREV: Yes, but there are many voices, not necessarily from the top of administration.
I applaud the secretary of defense, who kind of defined very clearly, and correctly, to my mind, the endgame, which is to weaken Russia, to the
extent that it could not attack again Ukraine or any other neighbor country. That is the endgame.
But it is not that Putin would be in the corner, and he loses his mind or whatever of anger or despair. No, he is sitting in Kremlin. He is enjoying
life. He is not fighting there. It's not his children who are dying there, and his children probably are in Switzerland or somewhere else.
And he is rational as, again -- rational, like one, like two plus two four.
KOZYREV: It does not mean that he is smart, but he is rational.
And a rational guy who likes the life, he will not start the nuclear suicide. Don't confuse a bad Kabuki dancer with a kamikaze. These are two
AMANPOUR: Well, that is very colorfully put, Foreign Minister. I'm sure many people will draw a lot of comfort from your assurances in that regard.
But I want to ask you, what is it going to take, then? I mean, you say he is comfortable, he is not suffering, his children are not dying, et cetera,
What will it take to end this, then, because he -- there does not seem to be a huge amount of extra successful progress on the battlefield, even in
the so-called revamped deployment in the east? After the U.N. secretary- general visited, "The Financial Times" pretty much assessed that Vladimir Putin has lost interest in diplomatic efforts to end this war, appears set
on seizing as much territory as possible, according to sources briefed on conversations with President Putin.
KOZYREV: He will find his interest in diplomacy when he is beaten there, when his forces are beaten there.
And the response today is not diplomacy, is not off-ramp searching for him, but it's $33 billion which President Biden proposed and should be, I hope,
voted for very, very soon. And that's where the whole thing will be decided.
But he will then withdraw. If he is beaten, he will withdraw, and his propaganda will present it as a great victory, believe me. Just take my
word on that, because the propaganda there presents everything as his success.
You know, he ruined Russian economy before this aggression in Ukraine. The Russian economy is underdeveloped. It was stagnating for at least at least
decade. And, still, he is a great economist, and some people even in the United States say that he is a genius.
And if he is a genius, then, OK. So, don't worry. He will be OK. But he should be beaten, and he will withdraw the army, because there are already
a lot of reports -- and it should be that way -- that young people there don't want to die for unclear and absurd, and if not criminal.
AMANPOUR: Do you think then -- do you think that's why he didn't call for a formal war and mass mobilization, because it would've created a backlash?
KOZYREV: Of course. Of course.
There are reports that there are already about 10 -- the commissions which are set around the country for drafting, for new drafts to the army. But
people are starting throwing Molotov cocktails into those offices, you know, because they don't want to die.
And one thing is to watch TV, like they do, many of them, and kind of feel great, but the other thing when you, in 20 -- 20 or 30 years or your son is
going there. And people could be disoriented, people could be brainwashed, but they cannot be brainwashed to the extent of not understanding that
their own son could die and will die for nothing.
OK, so what do you make of -- and, again, CNN is reporting -- it's anecdotal reporting -- that the senior defense officials are telling them
that they have received even more reports of a lack of morale amongst even mid-level commanders now currently in the Donbass, a lack of ability to
push forward, bad weather, bad mud and all the rest of it, but also a lack of morale and refusing orders or being deliberately slow to follow orders
to move forward.
Does that sound credible?
KOZYREV: Absolutely. That sounds credible, and that sounds logical. And that sounds understandable.
So, that happened. It's not first time something like this happen in Russian history. Remember World War I, when czar engaged in the war, and
then the army, 10 millions at that time, they were in three years so tired, and they started to understand that it was wrong.
It was Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks were a handful of people. But the rest of the army didn't want to continue senseless and bloody war, especially with the
corruption back home. And that's the same situation. And the end of this might be also very similar -- like, they -- generals, a group of gels at
that time, 100 years ago, came to czar, and forced him or persuaded him, whatever it is, to abdicate.
So, that might be the end of the story. Some generals, patriotic generals - - there are definitely patriotic generals. They will first stop from pressing the nuclear button because they don't want their families to be
And they might one day probably come to somewhere and tell somebody that, enough is enough. So, I mean, there are more than one off-ramp for that.
But leave it to Russians to do it.
What is important for outside world is to help Ukraine to win all their territory back. That will be the real outcome. And that would prevent this
happening every year or every three years or every month, actually, because, if he is not beaten, if they are not stopped by force, they don't
understand any other language.
AMANPOUR: OK. So...
KOZYREV: And they will be back, back, even to Poland, or -- I mean, the worst-case for provoking Putin is to be weak to him.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you one final question shortly.
You know and you have read that there is now a movement by President Biden to stop his intelligence leaking. In other words, all this stuff that's now
been in the press, which is really detailed stuff, they're not happy with it, apparently, the administration. They think it might provoke Putin and
escalate. What is your assessment of that?
KOZYREV: Well, I think that leaking is a wrong thing in any government, especially in a democratically elected government, and that is wrong.
But targeting is correct. So, if American Pentagon helps to target, I would applaud that, because it's definitely needed to help Ukrainians to target.
Why? The Russians invading an independent country make -- which is an international crime, they could target -- and America or NATO, for that
matter, whoever else...
KOZYREV: ... by request of the legal government elected president, cannot help targeting.
But again, leaking is wrong. And maybe talking about all of these nice things is probably -- that's questionable, whether you should tell
everything publicly or not.
KOZYREV: I don't think you have...
KOZYREV: But, to target, definitely.
AMANPOUR: All right, former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev from Washington, thank you very much indeed for joining us on this Mother's Day.
Now, President Putin told Russian soldiers today they are fighting for the same thing their father and grandfathers did, as we have just been
discussing, trying to tie his war in Ukraine to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
But some aging veterans who actually fought that fight beg to differ.
Correspondent Sara Sidner went to Vorzel near Kyiv, and spoke to two former soldiers of World War II, the Soviet army at that time.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vasil Kluey (ph) helped battled back the German advance in World War II when Ukraine was
part of the Soviet Union.
His proudest moments, helping liberate Mariupol by sea.
"We liberated murder up from the Germans in 1943. We went there with three warships and wrecked 11 different German ships," he says.
Seventy-seven years after Victory Day, he has mixed feelings about Russia. It pains him to say it. But the country he wants fought for has turned into
the enemy, leveling the very same city he fought so hard to save from Hitler's onslaught.
"For all of us who went through the war at the time, it hurts. I want to take up arms now and go to defend the same places and my country," he
His wife cannot contain herself as she listens to him, and lashes out at the man she sees as responsible for the new war, Vladimir Putin.
"There shouldn't be anything like him on Earth," she says. "He kills, destroys our cities and villages. He destroys our defenseless people."
On the anniversary of Victory Day, there are no celebrations here, only mementos and memories.
"It's no longer a holiday. It's very difficult," he says. "There aren't many of us left."
But Mato Divolenez (ph) is still here. The 96-year-old World War II veteran doesn't have to remember the terror of war. He's been given fresh memories.
Russian tanks blasted a hole in the front of his home in the tree-lined suburb of Vorzel.
He fought as a Soviet against the Germans, but has never had any love for the Soviets after he says he was jailed for speaking up against them.
"I was awarded medals and orders for victory, but I did not recognize them and never wore them," he says. He says Putin's Russia has started a war it
AMANPOUR: Sara Sidner reporting there with the reality check.
Ukrainian fighters today are putting up such fierce resistance against the Russians that Moscow is struggling to make significant advances in the
Donbass region. The United States and Europe continue to support Ukraine.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN that the goal is to give Kyiv an advantage at an eventual negotiating
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I suspect and we have all assessed that this could be a long-term conflict that can
carry on for additional months.
What we want to do is support the Ukrainians' ability to defend themselves, but also give them a -- more power at the negotiating table to negotiate
with the Russians once they get to real negotiations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Here now with a look at the balance of power on the battlefield is the former commander of American forces in Europe General Ben Hodges.
He's joining from Frankfurt, Germany.
General Hodges, welcome back to the program.
So, first, I need to ask you what you made of Putin's body language and his language-language.
LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY EUROPE COMMANDER: Christiane, it was a strange ceremony to watch. It was kind of a mix of sadness and
somber in a way.
The president and the Russian Federation, of course, as you know, used it as an opportunity to try and connect what they're doing now to 1945 to
somehow give it legitimacy. But what really struck me was the obvious absence of no declaration of mobilization or of war, no declaration of
victory, and also no Gerasimov and no Lavrov.
I watched closely. I never saw General Gerasimov. And I couldn't find Foreign Minister Lavrov either. And so I don't know if they are being eased
off the stage or -- for whatever reason, those two guys not featured prominently, I think there's a reason for that.
AMANPOUR: So, Gerasimov off is their equivalent of, I guess, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. So, he's the top, top military brass. Interesting that
you would pick that out, obviously.
Also, a total absence of what actually the defense minister boasted would be a big impressive air display with MiGs and others, and even in the Z
formation, which is their emblem for this invasion.
HODGES: Yes, I thought it was underwhelming, to be honest, just not as much stuff there and, as you point out the air component, but even the
vehicles and the stuff that came through, it just -- it didn't have the same sort of -- it didn't get one the feeling of a nation that was -- felt
like it was winning or that it was on the verge of really getting ready to do something.
HODGES: So, now, it could be that there's a growing realization that they have gone as far as they can.
I mean, it could be -- maybe I'm wanting to read this into it, but it could be that there was a very, very, very slight step back. I don't know that,
of course. But that would be a good sign.
AMANPOUR: Well, you obviously are familiar with what's happening, with all your contacts and your experience, on the actual ground right now.
And you probably heard me report the latest from Pentagon officials and others in the United States, the administration, telling reporters that
they are noticing -- again, they frame it as just anecdotal evidence of lack of morale still, of the refusal to follow orders or slowness in
following orders, even mid-level commanders, not just ordinary grunts, but actual commanders, of still having a kind of a hostile battlefield, not
just Ukrainian resistance, but mud and the inability to move forward as far and as fast as they had expected.
Does that jibe with what you are hearing? And does that surprise you?
HODGES: It does match what I have heard.
Compare that, of course, to the Ukrainian soldiers that are still fighting inside the Azovstal steel factory and in other places all around Ukraine.
This is about the moral domain of warfare. We know, from thousands of years of history, that when soldiers have something to fight for, whether it's a
cause or their comrades or loyalty to their unit, their ability to fight is incredible.
On the Russian side, I think there are three or four factors here. First, there's a corruption in the culture from the minister on down. I mean,
soldiers see that their equipment doesn't work. They're issued rations that are expired, all the basic sort of things that indicate that the higher
headquarters doesn't care about what happens to you, the lack of a medical -- medical care that's available in units.
Soldiers see that. And, of course, the command structure that's there, it's a very centralized senior officer, top-down sort of command structure,
which is based on the fact that you cannot possibly trust the junior leaders or junior soldiers. So there's an absence of trust.
And the thing that they don't have, as you and I have discussed before, they don't have sergeants like we have in the U.S. Army or the German army
or the British army that sort of -- the tough, old NCOs that makes soldiers do the right things, but also they kind of help connect soldiers to the
population. All of that is missing.
And so I'm not surprised that there would be poor morale and indiscipline.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let's just take a few issues.
We just talked to Andrei Kozyrev. He seemed to be delighted with the fact that, a week or more ago, the defense secretary of the United States, Lloyd
Austin, basically said the following. And we're going to play it. Everybody knows it. It's about what they actually hope to do to the Russian forces.
Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We want to see Russia weakened, to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in
So it has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to
very quickly reproduce that capability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, of course, that was after he visited, with Secretary Blinken, President Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
Is that the kind -- I mean, was he leaning too far over his skis? Is that actually what you think should happen? Does that come at the expense of
helping Kyiv win this battle rather quickly? I mean, the elongated war just brings more death to everybody.
First of all, of course, what he said right before that part was when he said this is about helping Ukraine win. And that was so important. You
know, 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, we never heard any of our presidents say, we're going to win.
And soldiers and civilians need to know that there is a very clear purpose in this. And so the declaration that we're going to help Ukraine win, which
means getting Russian troops out of Ukraine, was very important.
And then this follow-on part about weakening the Russians, I think, first of all, Secretary Austin always has chosen his words carefully. So this
would have been a policy decision, not him off the cuff. But I think it is important that we do this.
Otherwise, exactly as Minister Kozyrev said, we will be doing -- we will be having the same conversation next year or three years or five years.
Now, I think we can achieve the effect of doing this without actually having to state this is as policy, which I think goes to your point. Unity
of the alliance. Continued emphasis on readiness, being capable. A black sea strategy, where we don't treat Ukraine as an island but instead, as
part of a strategically important area. The addition of Sweden and Finland, should they choose to apply to the alliance. All of these things will
significantly weaken Russia's ability to threaten their neighbors.
Obviously, the sanctions are important because it helps all of us get off of Russian gas and it limits their ability to make these precision weapons
that have been used to kill so many innocent people. And then, finally, we have to reduce our own vulnerabilities to their disinformation. I mean, the
fact that you have millions of Americans, as well as Europeans, that are so vulnerable and believe the fairytales that come out of the Kremlin, we have
to live up to our own talking points as well.
AMANPOUR: General Hodges, last time we spoke, at length, was when I was actually in Kyiv and that was, you know, at the time that the Russian
forces were being pushed out of that episode, and they were being pushed out. It's not like that they, you know, retreated because they wanted to.
And you said, this is a moment of opportunity, a window of opportunity to really ramp up the capability of the Ukrainians.
Do you believe that that window of opportunity has been properly filled, and that they are now capable of getting Russia back across its borders?
HODGES: So, two things. First, we missed the opportunity to break their bag (ph), I mean, to crush them, as the Russians were withdrawing and
trying to regroup, we missed that opportunity. So -- but at the same time, of course, a lot has been done. So much more capability has been provided.
But the Russians now have had kind of reconfigure themselves and they've started this new offensive within the last couple of weeks.
The good news is that they started too fast and they were not ready. And that's why you are seeing such limited success here over the last two
weeks, along the 300-mile front. There's no obvious main efforts. They are not able to focus their capabilities anywhere. And for sure, in such a
short amount of time, they have not been able to learn how to operate what we would call joint operations, where you combine the effects of land, sea
and air and special forces and a cyber.
So, we still have the opportunity. And candidly, I think the Russians are close to culminating already. There's not hundreds of thousands of more
troops or new tanks ready to come into the fight. I think that they are close, and it seems to me that here in the coming weeks, as all of the work
has been done by the United States and their allies to get capability into Ukraine in the coming weeks, I think we're going to see a combination by
the Russians, a transition to a counter offensive by Ukraine, and they are going to get Russia back to the 2023 February line, I think, candidly by
the end of summer.
AMANPOUR: That's pretty precise, General. OK. Let me ask you what you think. Of all my experience covering wars, people like yourself would never
give details about actually what was happening. You called it operational security. We weren't meant to be in possession of some of this very, very
sensitive operational intelligence or whatever.
What is your view of the intelligence that was leaked about American, you know, helping with pinpointing certain Russian generals, et cetera, the
Moskva, but also -- let me just read this, for instance. Here is the latest that we've received. The United States has delivered more than 85 of the 90
howitzers that were pledged to Ukraine as well as more than 110,000 of the 184,000 ammunition rounds for them.
I, mean that is a level of detail, which is interesting, but what do you make of it actually being so widely, you know, put about? What do you think
it can do to Putin or the Russian side?
HODGES: Well, that's a great question because, there is a balance between, you know, operational security, but also, we are competing in the
information space. You know, I thought the administration did a fantastic job in the weeks leading up to the 24th of February, the constant revealing
of intelligence about what the Russians were doing. And for the first time in my life, the Kremlin seemed to be on the back foot. I mean, it really
didn't even know how to deal with being exposed like this.
So, there is a balance between sharing intelligence, talking about certain things. And that in the case you just described, how many howitzers have
been delivered? That's important for Ukrainians to be aware of how much is being done. Because it can look at a times like they are all alone out
there. So, there is value in this, and it also puts pressure on allies and other partners to want to deliver as well.
I am a little less comfortable with descriptions of how much ammunition is out there. Because, I would always want to know how much more the enemy
HODGES: What else do they still have? And so, that may not be terribly helpful. But the only metric that really should matter is, what's in the
hands of the Ukrainians? I mean, how much we get into Poland, or wherever it's going to, how much we've committed, is not what matters. What's really
matters is what is in the hands of the Ukrainian soldiers that need it? Obviously, that should not be advertised.
AMANPOUR: All right. Indeed. And you gave a prediction of a big shift by the end of the summer in Ukraine's favor.
AMANPOUR: General Hodges, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
So, the ongoing war is already becoming part of Ukraine's actual military history. The remains of Russian equipment are being displayed at a museum
of Kyiv for all to see. Of course, history itself has been distorted and deployed as a weapon in this conflict. Russia's claim to be denazifying
Ukraine took an uglier turn when the country's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that it didn't matter that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is
Jewish because Hitler was part Jewish. It is a comment that unsurprisingly was widely condemned.
In conversation with Hari Sreenivasan, the Yale professor of Jewish history, Eliyahu Stern, explains the danger of this kind of language and
the motivation behind it.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Professor Eliyahu Stern, thanks so much for joining us.
I want to go back to last week where there were comments from Foreign Minister Lavrov. And I should note to the audience that since then,
Vladimir Putin has apologized to the prime minister of Israel, and the Israeli prime minister has accepted it. But I think these comments are
worth some unpacking.
So, let me just -- to refresh our audience here, here is what he said. As to Zelenskyy's argument of what kind of Nazification can we have if I'm
Jewish, if I remember correctly, and I may be wrong, Hitler also had Jewish blood? This is Foreign Minister Lavrov saying this. It doesn't mean
anything at all. We have, for a long time, listened to the wise Jewish people who say that the most rabid anti-Semites tend to be Jews. There is
no family without a monster.
There's kind of two parts to that. And I kind of want to get you and your thoughts here on both of those parts and why they were so significant.
ELIYAHU STERN, PROFESSOR OF MODERN JEWISH HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Hari. It's a pleasure to be speaking with you.
Foreign Minister Lavrov's comments are deeply disturbing. First, they run rug shot over the history of the holocaust. They turn victims into
perpetrators, perpetrators into victims. They divide Jews against Jews. And then, to add insult to injury, claim that the murder of 6 million Jews was
perpetrated at the hands of Jews themselves, no less than Adolf Hitler.
Now, as surprising as these shocking these comments are, they are actually not surprising. In fact, they never -- precisely the arguments made a few
months earlier by Vladimir Putin to justify his campaign in Ukraine. What it did Mr. Putin tell us? Mr. Putin first denied that Ukraine had national
history. Then he identified Ukraine as an aggressor. Then he divided Ukrainians against each other based on language and ethnicity. And finally,
said that whatever ill might befall the Ukrainian people, they only had themselves to blame.
SREENIVASAN: I'm trying to wrap my head around, why was this the red line that was crossed? Because there's been a lot of critique of Israel saying
that you are not sticking up for Ukrainians nearly enough, you are not condemning Russia as strongly as you should be. You are still not slapping
sanctions on the oligarchs. Why were the comments from Foreign Minister Lavrov something that immediately drew rebuke from Israeli leadership?
STERN: Yes. I was pleasantly surprised. I was heartened to see Israel respond the way it did. And, at least to me, and I think to some others, it
wasn't clear that Israel would come out as strong as it did. As you mentioned, Hari, up until this point, Israel has played a kind, of
middleman role in the war between Ukraine and Russia, for a host of reasons, not least because Russia is right now based in Syria, supporting
the Assad regime. While Israel continues to conduct covert military operations in Syria against Hezbollah with Russia allowing them entry into
its -- into Syrian airspace or allowing its troops to be brought into -- to conduct those operations.
So, in terms of Israel's strategic interests, it has had to walk at this point -- it has walked very fine line and has been playing a middle role.
After the Charlottesville rally in which President Donald Trump said there were fine people on both sides of the divide at that rally, thereby giving
a pass to the white supremacists that were screaming at that Charlottesville rally, Jews will not replace it. It took Prime Minister
Netanyahu only three days before he offered only the most tepid critics of the rally.
So here, in this case, you know, kudos to Naftali Bennett and to Yair Lapid, they should be credited. They stepped up and took the side to defend
Jews worldwide, realizing that a red line here was being crossed irrespective of what Israel's short-term interests were. This was a direct
threat to Jews across the world, and they should be commended for taking those steps.
SREENIVASAN: I'm wondering when Foreign Minister Lavrov makes comments like this or something like this comes from a different arm of the Russian
government, is it resonating in any way with Russians at home and how they perceive the Jewish people?
STERN: So, what Putin is doing, yes -- or Lavrov, more precisely at that moment, is giving a warning call to Jews in Russia and a warning to Israel,
that it should be careful and it should tread carefully and must continue to support Russia or pay a serious price.
I mean, when we look at Putin today, what -- in relation to the Jews, what's most confounding, I think too many who historically look at anti-
Semitism is, he doesn't seem, at least on the surface, to express any of the typical markers that we would normally associate with anti-Semites. And
so, it becomes very difficult, at times, to be able to understand, what exactly is his strategy, vis-a-vis various minority groups for religious
And, while he might not reflect typical forms of anti-Semitism, what we see, in effect, is him dividing minority groups against themselves,
privileging a small subsection of them, and then claiming that the rest of them are no longer part of those minority groups.
SREENIVASAN: This makes me ask the question whether our definition of anti-Semitism is changing in front of us. And what does that mean?
STERN: Yes. I think you touched on really the most important, significant development that we are seeing here with Mr. Lavrov's comments. Because, in
many ways, they are indicative of a far broader transformation of what constitutes anti-Semitism, specifically among right-wing parties worldwide
In the public eye, most people would identify anti-Semitism. And, of course, it's historically taken many different shapes and faces. But most
people would adopt the definition that Hitler adopted. Anybody who is biologically Jewish, who is discriminated against, anyone who has any kind
of Jewish biological heritage, who is not treated fairly and equally because of that biological relation, that is deemed anti-Semitism.
Now, what's happened since the 1970s, is that right-wing parties around the world have shifted way from a biological definition of minority groups, and
specifically of Jews, and have adopted a cultural and ideological, and identitarian (ph) definition of their relationship to those groups.
So, let me explain. Instead of seeing all Jews as being tainted or as being evil or as being worthy of discrimination, right-wing groups around the
world are prepared to partner with and are prepared increasingly to ally with those Jews who embrace certain traditionalist values and respect
So, for example, Vladimir Putin has by his side Rabbi Berel Lazar. His self-appointed chief rabbi. This also has taken place in Hungary in which
you Viktor Orban having his own set of rabbinic supporters, those primarily who come from the orthodox sector of the Jewish world, but by no means all
of that sector. And, what they do then take that group and claim that they represent the true identity of the group, all the while Jews who are
secularists, who are progressive, who are liberals, are simply deemed not Jewish at all, or un-Jewish.
SREENIVASAN: I wonder how this translates into the rise of anti-Semitism here in the United States. And then, according to the Anti-Defamation
League, we're at somewhere around seven different anti-Semitic incidents every day in this country.
STERN: I think what's happening in the United States is twofold. What is taking place with anti-Semitism is because there no longer is a working or
set definition of what constitutes a true Jewish identity. It makes it also increasingly difficult to identify what's actually is anti-Semitism.
Now, in the case of the United States, we see two different kinds of anti- Semitism. The lion share of anti-Semitism, what the ADL actually says in its report, the lion share of anti-Semitism comes from various individuals
associated with right-wing nationalist, white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups. Some has -- have also merged during times in which Israel finds
itself at various wars with the Palestinian people. And so, you will also see different kinds of anti-Semitic tactics as forms of anti-Israeli
But most importantly, I think the reason we are seeing this spike right now is a certain destabilization of democratic institutions in the United
States. It's specifically happening across the world, the western world, in which we see western democratic institutions being undermined. That
undermining is itself giving rise to all various forms of discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism from across the board.
SREENIVASAN: I was just looking at some these statistics globally. In the U.K., in Australia, it is up about 35 percent. I'm talking about anti-
Semitism. In France, it's up almost 75 percent in 2021 from the year before that. In Germany, it is up 49 percent since 2019. And the United States it
is, unfortunately, rising, not slowing down.
STERN: Yes. I think, first of all, one of the things that we haven't touched on is the extent to which the Jewish community is itself divided
over these issues, deeply, deeply divided of these issues. You know, anti- Semitism has two words in it, Hari. One is the anti, the other is semi. And if you can't agree on who or what is the semi, then how on earth are you
going to be able to agree on who or what is anti-Semitic?
So, what's happened is that right-wing groups have tapped into that edition, have sown greater seeds of discords and have both tried to
redefine what the Jew and who really speaks for Jews. And at the same time, been allowed then to use that as cover to be able to allow certain groups
to perpetrate anti-Semitic attacks and activities.
You know, during the Trump administration, we saw the -- his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who was, if you recall, forced to walk back
comments at his Senate hearing for his nomination in which he stated that liberal Jews who are critical of Israel were in fact Kapos. Kapos being the
term used to describe those Jews that assisted Nazis in the murder of 6 million Jews.
Now, to his credit, Mr. Friedman walk back those comments. But what we see is a ratcheting up of discourse of demonizing liberal, secular and
progressive Jews around the world both by Jews themselves and by anti- Semites. And the two, of course, cannot be equated. But what the State of Israel did and why it's so significant what Bennett did this past week is
he said, enough was enough.
SREENIVASAN: What do we know about patterns of how Jewish people are treated in a society, and what happens to other minorities in that society?
STERN: So, you know, I think, historically, the way Jews would like to see anti-Semitism is they have traditionally seen themselves or described
themselves as canaries in the coal mine, right? And so, if Jews were being discriminated against, it pointed to larger problems with a democracy. It
pointed to larger problems with freedoms of press. It pointed to larger problems with the way in which minorities would be treated.
I think today, we need to invert that knowledge. In fact, I think the best way we're going to be able to address anti-Semitism today is by
strengthening democracies. The way to go about addressing anti-Semitism is not by simply protecting Jews.
What we're seeing in the United States staying across Europe is a shaking of the very foundations of democratic institutions, a respect for
minorities across the board, respect for freedom of the press, demonization of immigrant groups. These kinds of activities ultimately are the greatest
threat to Jews.
Jews, Hari, have prospered, have flourished and thrived in democracies. When democracies are undermined, ultimately -- Jews might not be the first,
but they ultimately will be hurt. It's in Jew's best interest, it's in Israel's best interest to be supporting democracies worldwide, fighting
against fascism and authoritarian regimes.
SREENIVASAN: Broadcasting this conversation on May 9th, this is Russian Victory Day. This is the day they beat the Nazis. What do you think the
timing? Is this a coincidence? You know, why now would Lavrov say what he said and start this?
STERN: I think Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Putin are increasingly going to be charged and increasingly going to be seen as committing various egregious
acts of human rights violations, as well as discrimination of minority groups and perhaps some people have said, although, it is still debated, to
some degree, even genocide.
I think they are very cautious and I think that they are very concerned of a court of international opinion is regarding their activities in Ukraine.
What they are attempting to do is to shield themselves and their soldiers long-term from being charged with those kinds of human rights violations.
And what they think speciously is if they could claim the mantle of the defenders of the Jews, the defenders of the canaries in the coal mine, that
they, in some ways, we'll be able to whitewash their activities.
Hari, for Putin and Lavrov, the statement is, what me, committing a grave atrocity or human rights violation? I am a great protector of the most
weakest and vulnerable people in the world, the Jewish people. And what Naftali Bennett did, and what the State of Israel did this past week was to
say, no, you're not going to get away with the use of Jews, abusing Jews for those kinds of activities.
SREENIVASAN: Eliyahu Stern, professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University, thanks so much for joining us.
STERN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Drawing a line in the sand there. And finally, tonight, a musical surprise in the Ukrainian capital. Bono and the Edge brought U2
rock and roll to an impromptu concert in a Kyiv metro station. Bono told the audience that the people of Ukraine are fighting for all of us who love
freedom. They were joined by Ukrainian pop rock singer, Taras Topolia, who has traded performing for serving in the Ukrainian army. Let's take a
listen to some of that concert.
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AMANPOUR: And of course, metro stations across Kyiv and other cities have been turned into bunkers and safe houses ever since the war started 74 days
That's it for us. Thank you for watching. Good-bye from London.