When we can’t agree to fight against neo-Nazis, we’ve reached a new low

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For anyone wondering about the state of American politics in 2018: A U.S. congressman was just publicly accused of spreading Russian propaganda and “holding Putin’s dirty laundry.” The congressman’s crime? Trying to prevent American weapons from going to neo-Nazis.  

Late last month, Congress authorized a massive aid package to Ukraine. The package contained a provision whose inclusion was supported by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). The provision bars U.S. aid from going to the 3,000-strong Azov Battalion, a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard with a heavy neo-Nazi contingent and a long record of horrific human rights abuses, according to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. In response, Hill contributor Kristofer Harrison published an essay denying the neo-Nazi elements of Azov and accusing Khanna of being a Russian stooge.  

{mosads}Harrison provided no evidence to support his smear, but he didn’t need any — he simply accused Khanna of being in league with Vladimir Putin and, apparently, that was enough. This story of a congressman openly attacked for the sin of refusing to arm white supremacists serves as a dire warning about not only anti-Semitism but the danger of stifling debate and allowing baseless accusations in the media.  


First, a bit of context. This isn’t Harrison’s first time defending neo-Nazis: he’s gone to bat for the Azov Battalion in HuffPost in 2015, in The Hill in 2017, and now in The Hill once again. Each time, Harrison employs the same uncomplicated Orwellian logic: a) Azov is not neo-Nazi; b) Azov has been smeared by Russian propaganda; c) anyone who disagrees is a Kremlin puppet.  

I’m not going to waste time here proving Azov’s neo-Nazi nature, because I’ve already done so in an exhaustive rebuttal to Harrison’s 2017 essay. Anyone who doubts whether or not a battalion whose leader once stated that Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival … against the Semite-led Untermenschen” is neo-Nazi can read the piece and decide for themselves. Azov’s neo-Nazi contingent has been confirmed by The New York Times, the Daily Beast, USA Today, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, the BBC, Reuters and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Indeed, even the Atlantic Council’s John Herbst — a staunch Ukraine supporter who has championed arming Kiev — does not defend Azov, insisting only that U.S. arms will not reach the battalion. Harrison’s zeal takes him into territory where most prominent Ukraine supporters fear to tread. 

And therein lies the problem. By this point, Harrison’s it’s-all-Kremlin-lies defense is so repetitive that arguing with him over whether Azov involves neo-Nazis is beginning to feel like arguing with someone over whether the Holocaust involved Third Reich Nazis. Verifiable proof from established Western outlets means nothing if the other side insists that it’s all a conspiracy.  

But in the end, this isn’t about Harrison, or Khanna, or even Azov. It’s about something far more ominous: a media climate that enables a commentator to repeatedly publish the type of material one usually finds on anti-Semitic websites or conspiracy blogs.    

Take a moment to recall today’s terrifying surge of global anti-Semitism. Last August, neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville chanted “Jews Won’t Replace Us” and killed a protester. Last November, 60,000 marched in Warsaw to chants of “Pure Blood.” Last week exposed anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom’s Labour Party and the gruesome murder of a Holocaust survivor in Paris. Yet despite all this, despite two years of racism, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, threats to Jewish journalists and desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust museums, a man was allowed to openly whitewash neo-Nazis and baselessly smear the reputation of a U.S. lawmaker for daring to stand up to white supremacy. And he was able to do so in a prestigious publication, The Hill.  

It’s hard to imagine Harrison being able to get away with his deeply disturbing act, if not for one factor: Russia.

The past three years have brought nearly nonstop debate over how Moscow has meddled with and influenced America. One dangerous aspect that doesn’t get covered, however, is how the existence of Russia has given smear artists the green light to assign blame for virtually anything, simply by accusing their target of being a Russian stooge.  

It’s stunning that Ro Khanna’s actions need to be defended. The man spoke out against arming a verifiable neo-Nazi formation in a foreign military. Can one imagine a member of Congress being accused of ulterior motives for, say, trying to keep arms away from Richard Spencer or Matthew Heimbach? 

Have we reached a juncture at which a lawmaker must defend himself for removing weapons of war from white supremacists? Has dialogue in America degraded to the point where Russia can be used to attack people for fighting anti-Semitism? 

Lev Golinkin is the author of “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka” (Doubleday). He came to the United States as a child refugee from the Soviet Union in 1990. 

Tags anti-semitism Azov Battalion media Ro Khanna Russia Ukraine

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