‘We’re not touching non-Jews today’ Flight from Israel sparks anti-Semitic riot at airport in Russia’s Dagestan
Hundreds of protesters gathered Sunday evening at an airport in Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s Republic of Dagestan, ahead of the arrival of a flight from Tel Aviv. The protest occurred after messages circulated on Telegram calling on people to come to the airport and search vehicles for “refugees from Israel.”
Members of the crowd stopped vehicles leaving the airport and checked passengers’ passports. One of the vehicles the protesters stopped was an OMON (riot police) van. One person who arrived on the flight from Tel Aviv told the Telegram channel Here Is Dagestan that when he exited the airport building, “about fifty people rushed up to him” and asked him if he was Jewish. According to the man, he immediately “realized what was going on” and said he was Russian. He was let through after he showed them his Russian passport. He said that some members of the crowd told him they’re “not touching non-Jews today.”
After several hours, the crowd broke into the airport building. According to the Telegram channel Ostorozhno, Novosti, people entered “every room in the airport” while shouting anti-Semitic slogans. Videos posted on social media show airport employees trying to hide in offices. Later, some of the protesters ran onto the runway and tried to get to the plane that had come from Tel Aviv. At 9:35 p.m. local time, Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency announced that air traffic to and from the airport was suspended “until the situation is normalized” due to the “infiltration of the tarmac by unknown persons.” The Telegram channel Mash Gor posted a video purportedly showing Makhachkala airport employees offering to let the crowd choose three people to enter the aircraft with cameras to prove there were no Jewish people onboard.
For hours, police appeared to do nothing to block the crowd. Video from the scene shows police officers calling from megaphones for protesters not to carry out a pogrom or block the roads, while also assuring the crowd that they “understand” them and are “ready to stand up and chant” with them. Only when the protesters overwhelmed airport security and broke through to the airport’s runway did special forces arrive on the scene. Even then, however, police did not attempt to break up the crowd. At around 9:00 p.m. local time, Dagestan National Policy Minister Enrik Muslimov and Youth Affairs Minister Kamil Saidov arrived at the airport and tried to negotiate with the protesters. According to Ostorozhno, Novosti, telecommunication networks were jammed to prevent the crowd from coordinating their actions.
As of 8:40 p.m. local time, the majority of the passengers from the Tel Aviv flight did not appear to have left the Makhachkala airport, according to the Telegram channel Sota. The outlet noted that most passengers on this flight usually continue on to Moscow.
The Russian Investigative Committee’s Dagestan branch has opened a “mass rioting” case in connection with the unrest. The charges in question can carry a penalty of up to 15 years. At the same time, the Interior Ministry’s directorate for the North Caucasus Federal District published a statement warning residents of the “inadmissibility of conducting unauthorized events and disrupting the public order” only several hours after the anti-Semitic protest began. The ministry also said they will be able to identify everyone who took part in the protests as the airport has surveillance cameras.
At approximately 10:30 p.m. local time, the Telegram channel Echo Dagestan reported that police had begun arresting protesters.
The North Caucasus has seen a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in recent days. On Saturday, residents of Khasavyurt, Dagestan, gathered in front of a hotel following the spread of online rumors suggesting Israeli refugees were staying there and that the hotel was “full of Jews.” The same day, demonstrators held a protest in Cherkessk, the capital of Karachay-Cherkessia, to demand that ethnic Jews be expelled from the area. The Interior Ministry later reported that 34 of the 80 protesters had been arrested and charged with participating in unauthorized rallies. In Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, unknown arsonists set fire to a Jewish cultural center and left an anti-Semitic message on the building’s wall.