A meme that Russia’s Embassy in the UK tweeted on Tuesday has sparked an avalanche of criticism both against Russia as well as Twitter for allowing its publishing after its content was branded antisemitic.
Responding to Ukraine’s president’s false claims last week that Kyiv is not behind the last week’s incident in which two people were killed by a missile that struck a Polish town near the Ukrainian border, the Russian Embassy in the UK shared a Simpsons-type meme of Volodymyr Zelensky, depicting him with a notable, and potentially antisemitic, feature – an outlandishly oversized nose.
Critics accuse Russian diplomats of drawing on a “hooked nose” trope, the key Nazi propaganda, that has been finding its way into antisemitic cartoons and other media since the Middle Ages.
Zelensky is Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors.
In a reference to the popular animated show, the meme features Zelensky writing “I will not fire missiles into Poland anymore.” The embassy also gave the photo a snarky caption saying that the best way to join the alliance probably isn’t by firing missiles at a NATO member state.
The research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy and the co-author of the book “Meme Wars,” Joan Donovan, was among the first ones to point out the open antisemitism the Russian embassy used to drum up support for the Russian war on Ukraine.
Twitter before Elon Musk, as critics underscored, was routinely removing from the platform, or making it impossible to share tweets containing images that used racist tropes to attack individuals or groups based on their ethnic identity.
The Russian Embassy’s tweet remained where it was posted- without being deleted, contextualized, or restricted in any visible way – despite pleas from Twitter users who objected to its anti-Jewish racism content.
The irony in the Russian Embassy’s meme, as Twitter users argue, is that Russia actually claimed that one of the goals of the invasion of Ukraine was to “deNazify” the country, after which Russian officials started calling Zelensky and his regime Nazis.
In a Telegram post on Monday, the speaker of Russia’s State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, called for Ukraine’s “Nazi” President to face a trial for war crimes.
In another act of antisemitism back in May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also compared Zelensky to Hitler, noting that Hitler “also had Jewish blood” in an effort to point out that being Jewish does not mean there can’t be Nazis in your country.
Lavrov’s comments were promptly blasted by Israeli officials, including Israeli PM at the time, Yair Lapid, who described them as unforgivable and outrageous and a terrible historical error.