Exactly one week ago I expressed my wish that the new year would be welcomed with a public reassurance that the friendship between Georgians and Jews is as strong as ever, and that anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry have no place in Georgian society.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. On Monday 4th January, Ilia Karkadze, a deacon at the Trinity Cathedral in Kutaisi, spewed several antisemitic conspiracy theories which were reminiscent of some of the worst blood-libels and anti-Jewish hate propaganda of 1930s Europe.
Karkadze’s antisemitic speech was made merely two weeks after Ioane Gamrekeli, the Metropolitan of the Kutaisi-Gaenati Diocese and a member of the Holy Synod, had delivered his own highly controversial and problematic sermon, parts of which could have been interpreted as anti-Semitic.
I have been in this wonderful country long enough to realise that the vast majority of Georgians do not share these horrendous views. It is not for nothing that Georgians have gained a world-wide reputation for their famous hospitality and love of strangers. Likewise, a thriving Jewish community has existed in Georgia for over 2 millennia and has encountered less anti-Semitism than in most other countries.
Since the re-establishment of independent Georgia 30 years ago, Israel – the Jewish State – has sought to reciprocate that kindness and express our gratitude by investing in the local economy, training over 1,500 Georgian women and men in Israeli medicine, agriculture, education and hightech, by organizing numerous humanitarian projects and by assisting Georgia in its fight against the COVID19 pandemic.
In 2019 a record number of Israeli tourists arrived in Georgia – 200,000 – the biggest group of any country which is not an immediate neighbour to Georgia. They came here in the hope that they were still welcome and that being Jewish in Georgia would continue to be a source of pride – rather than shame.
The International Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust will take place later this month (27th January). As the Ambassador of Israel and as a son of a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor I call upon the Georgian government to make its voice heard loud and clear in condemnation of those hateful anti-Semitic speeches. Moreover, whereas I welcome Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli’s strong condemnation of Ilia Karkadze speech and clarification of his own previous problematic statement, I would still hope that His Holiness, Ilia 2nd, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, who has always professed his sincere friendship towards the Jewish people, will also himself reiterate a much-needed message of tolerance and rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry.
As history has demonstrated time and again: ““The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I am confident that the Georgian authorities will take all appropriate action in order to stem the rise of anti-Semitism in this country.