The dog that doesn’t bark in Georgia

Georgia’s richest and most controversial man was Jewish. So?

The sudden death, in his English estate, of self-exiled Georgian billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili has attracted the attention of Variety, so you know that it’s an important story. A few of the many newspaper reports and obits mention, in passing, that he “was born into a Jewish family” or that he “maintains a home in Israel.” And many don’t. Which is as it should be; his Russian business connections, media control, and political ambitions and machinations are big stories in themselves, and have nothing to do with his being Jewish (Georgia’s other billionaire is not).

But imagine, in any other country in greater Europe, that the richest man: owns the major media outlets, allegedly in league with Rupert Murdoch; is widely believed to own much of the infrastructure, in league with hostile foreign state-owned companies; is bankrolling opposition parties; is himself a candidate for president, promising personally to cover all the debts and energy bills of the country’s poor; and has been caught on videotape apparently offering a senior official $100M to stage a coup. And he’s Jewish and lives in Israel much of the time. These latter facts surely would figure heavily in the public conversation.

Along with “birthplace of wine” and “soaring peaks,” “no history of antisemitism” is boilerplate travel reporting on Georgia. And Georgians are, indeed, quick to offer “we love the Jews” (who have been here for a couple millennia, give or take a few centuries). In my experience, at least, these are sincere expressions, and not defensive. (And it doesn’t necessarily extend to Christian denominations other than the Georgian Orthodox Church.) Two cabinet ministers are Jewish (in a country where Jews now account for approximately zero percent of the population); this is not an issue to anyone other than the David Duke wing of Georgian politics, who have about as much influence as…David Duke.

Georgia is not free of nativism, chauvinism, or intolerance. But it’s not directed at the Jews. I haven’t yet heard an adequate explanation of why not, given that it’s the default position almost everywhere else.