In rare rebuke, top Russian rabbi calls antisemitic airport riot ‘eternal disgrace’

As more details emerge on who was on mob-targeted plane and what they went through, Boruch Gorin criticizes state authorities in Dagestan for failing to prevent attempted lynching

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Rabbi Boruch Gorin. (Courtesy)
Rabbi Boruch Gorin. (Courtesy)

A prominent rabbi in Russia, Boruch Gorin, issued a harsh rebuke on Tuesday of authorities there, calling riots that broke out at an airport in Dagestan against passengers aboard a flight from Israel an “eternal disgrace.”

He spoke out as more details emerged about who was on the plane from Tel Aviv targeted by a mob on Sunday, and the nature of the ordeal they went through.

Gorin, a journalist, publisher and spokesperson for Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, wrote on Facebook: “Shocked [at what happened] at the international airport. Has the republic not yet been renamed Hamastan?”

He was referring to the rioting Sunday by hundreds of Muslim men at the airport of Makhachkala in the Republic of Dagestan, a Muslim-majority state in the Russian Federation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Western agents for the riots, saying on television on Monday: “The events in Makhachkala last night were instigated through social networks, not least from Ukraine, by the hands of agents of Western special services.”

The rioters broke through police barriers and stormed the airport after news circulated that a Red Wings flight from Israel had landed there. According to eyewitnesses, men from the crowd were able to overwhelm police and interrogate passengers in an attempt to find Jews.

The action is understood to be connected to the fighting between Israel and Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip. Terrorists killed some 1,400 people in a shock onslaught in Israel on October 7, whereupon the Israeli military began a widespread campaign in the Gaza Strip aimed at topping Hamas, which Hamas says has killed more than 8,000 people; its figures cannot be independently verified.

Rioters at the airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, October 30, 2023, shout antisemitic slogans as they protest the arrival of an airliner coming from Tel Aviv. (AP)

Jihadist terrorism has been a steady issue for authorities in Dagestan for years. Jews have been targeted there occasionally, including in 2013 when an unidentified terrorist shot and severely wounded Ovadia Isakov, a Chabad rabbi living in Derbent, a Dagestani city where about 300 Jews live today.

Multiple passengers with Israeli citizenship are believed to have been on the flight, but they denied being Jewish or Israeli when asked about it. None of the passengers were harmed and they were transferred to government facilities before continuing to their destinations.

At least four Israeli passengers were on the flight to board a connection from Makhachkala to Moscow, according to Alex Bendersky, who has covered the riots on his Telegram channel Carmel News. Later on Sunday night, hundreds of men were seen outside a hotel where they suspected a Jewish person was staying. No one was hurt in that incident, either.

Law enforcement officers patrol an area outside the airport in Makhachkala on October 30, 2023. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

“Proxy representatives of the massive crowd checked hotels for Jews. For what, by the way? What would happen if they found the Jews? Is that according to the laws of Caucasian hospitality?” Rabbi Gorin wrote. He noted also that the organizers of the riots began calling on people to storm the airport on Telegram many hours before the incident.

“Don’t the authorities read Telegram channels? A nightmare and eternal shame,” Gorin wrote.

Lazar, the chief rabbi, called on Russians “not to burn the bridges” of religious coexistence. “The events of recent days show that this traditional friendship is being tested,” he added in a statement.

Russia, where authorities have been leading a crackdown on freedom of expression and dissent following the country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, is widely considered a dictatorship where criticizing authorities can have serious implications.

Rioters at the airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023, shout antisemitic slogans as they protest the arrival of an airliner coming from Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP)

One of the Israeli-Russian passengers flying to Moscow told the Mediazona website about the ordeal. She was traveling on the half-empty plane with her mother, father and sister, she said.

Security forces escorted the Moscow-bound passengers to their connection but on the bus, “a mob started chasing us. We drove for a long time, yet the people didn’t tire and kept running after our bus. They were carrying the Palestinian flag, shouting, ‘Brothers, brothers!’” she said.

“People on the bus shouted back that we were Russians, showing their red passports, yelling out the cities they hailed from: Ufa, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Moscow. Nearly all were Russians, though many held dual citizenship. There was one man from Israel with us who spoke Russian poorly,” the woman said. The mob pelted the bus with stones.

“I sent voice messages to my friends and partner, telling them about my love for them,” the woman said.

This handout photograph taken and released by Russian Investigative Committee on August 15, 2023, shows rescuers working at the site of a blast at a gas station in the city of Makhachkala. (Russian Investigative Committee/AFP)

The passengers were taken out of the bus and, instead of boarding the connection flight, holed up with guards on the second floor of the airport. Eventually, a helicopter took the passengers to an army base where they spent the night. Their phones were taken and later returned to them, and they were eventually taken back to the airport and boarded a flight to Moscow safely, the passenger, whom Mediazona did not name, said.

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the riots in Russia.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry and National Security Council warned Israeli citizens against traveling to a number of Russian republics and regions in the North Caucasus.

The council raised the threat level to four, the highest level, for the Russian republics of Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia-Alenia, and the Krasnodar and Stavropol districts.

The announcement called on all Israelis in those areas to leave as soon as possible.

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