When Russian regional airline Red Wings Airlines Flight 4728 left Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport at 3:17 pm on Sunday, there was no way for the passengers to know what hell awaited them on the tarmac at Makhachkala Uytash Airport in Dagestan.
Makhachkala is the capital and largest city of Dagestan, a small Russian republic with a Muslim-majority population in the Caucasus bordering Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Red Wings Airlines regularly flies from Israel to Makhachkala, a flight that takes about three hours and 15 minutes, as a layover on its Tel Aviv-Moscow route.
But this time was different. Numerous videos surfaced on social media sites, in near real time, showing Muslim men searching Uytash airport for Jews and interrogating people they suspected of being Jewish. In one video, a frenzied crowd of Muslim men bursts through large glass doors to push their way into the airport, yelling “Allahu akbar.”
Dagestan once had a Jewish population, comprised largely of Persian Jews who arrived there an estimated 1,200 years ago. Often referred to as Mountain Jews or Caucasus Jews, most of them now live in Israel. Dagestanis, much like the ones at the airport, made it impossible for them to stay in the Caucasus.
The mob had heard that a plane was en route from Israel and went to the airport to hunt Jews. When the flight landed in Makhachkala at 7:18 pm local time, it arrived at what Aviva Klompas, co-founder of the anti-Jew-hatred organization Boundless Israel, said “can only be described as a modern-day pogrom.”
An estimated crowd of 500 Muslim men, many carrying Palestinian flags, surrounded the airplane and demanded to know if any Jews were on board, in between shouts of “Allahu akbar.”
“Pogrom” is a Russian word referring to organized violence and massacres against a particular ethnic or religious group, especially against Jews by Russians and other Eastern Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the definition of what constitutes a pogrom can vary, Klompas was far from the only person to refer to what happened as such.
“Open season on Jews. Putin just sending a message,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s official X account posted shortly after the attack.
Russia’s former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev posted on X to explain what he saw as the roots of pogroms like these: using antisemitism for power and control.
“Anti-Jewish pogroms, known in Russia for more than a century, have never been spontaneous. Like external aggression, they constitute a form of internal violence used to justify the iron fist of tyranny,” he wrote.
Biden Administration officials were quick to weigh in as well.
“We condemn the violent protests that have been reported in Russia threatening Israelis and Jews. We call on Russian authorities to ensure their safety. The US stands with Israel and the entire Jewish community as we see a surge in antisemitism throughout the world. There is no excuse for targeting Jews or engaging in antisemitic incitement anywhere,” Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, said in a statement released on her office’s official X account.
It took several hours for local police to gain control of the situation. Dagestan’s Health Ministry said that 20 people were injured at the airport, but it was unclear at the time of publication if any of the injured were Jewish or Israeli.
This was at least the second incident related to the current Israel-Hamas war to disrupt mass transit in the past week. Two days earlier, the far-left US Jewish advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace disrupted train travel in New York City by occupying Grand Central Terminal in support of Palestinians and staging a nonviolent sit-in. Two hundred protesters were arrested.
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