The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an international think-tank specializing in disinformation and extremism, has published a report detailing how an antisemitic conspiracy theory is being shared on telegram to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the ISD report, the conspiracy centers on the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic people at the center of much earlier antisemitism:
May 5, 2021 Like any major crisis in the digital age, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred a barrage of conspiracy theories and disinformation online. While allusions to the (usually misrepresented) past are common in many conspiracy theories focused on geopolitics, history has become a particularly hot topic in this case. From denying Ukrainians’ ethnic identity to decrying its government as fascists, distortions of history have become tools used to undermine Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent and democratic state.
As with many contemporary conspiracy theories, antisemitism has been present in several narratives about the invasion, ranging from direct attacks on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish heritage, to tropes about global elites having their sinister plans foiled by Putin’s decision to invade. One of the antisemitic conspiracy theories being used to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the Khazarian Mafia.
Conspiracy theories about the Khazars
Conspiracy theories about the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic people who established a major empire (Khazaria) between Eastern Europe and Western Asia in the Middle Ages, have been spread in conspiracist, right-wing extremist, and Islamist communities online prior to the current conflict. However, given that Khazaria spanned modern-day, south-eastern Russia, southern Ukraine, Crimea and Kazakhstan, they have acquired distinct geographic relevance amidst the war in Ukraine. The Khazars became a popular talking point among conspiracy theorists due to the claim that the Khazar people, or at least their elites, converted to Judaism en masse during the 8th century. The lack of reliable, contemporary source research on the Khazars make it difficult to determine how true this claim is. Khazaria was forgotten for centuries, until it was rediscovered among early Zionists in the 19th century, who were interested in what they saw as a potentially historic Jewish state. While there do appear to have been conversions to Judaism among the Khazars, the extent of the conversion to Judaism amoeporngst the wider populace remains unclear.
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The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported in March how some of the unique aspects of Telegram are resulting in the social messaging app increasingly being used for influence purposes.