On February 12, 1953, the USSR officially declared the severance of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel. An explosion in the Soviet embassy which had happened on February 9 precipitated the move.
The bomb exploded at the doors of the embassy, slightly damaging the building and injuring three people. Followed an investigation conducted by Israel’s police and secret service, an underground anti-Soviet organization was revealed as the culprits. In the court hearing, its members claimed that they had carried out the act of terror in answer to the “Doctors' Plot” and the anti-Semitic campaign which had been going on in the USSR at that time.
The campaign had started in 1949, and in the beginning was not openly anti-Semitic. It was announced as a campaign against “cosmopolitism” and pro-Western ideas, but Jews seemed to be the main bearers of such ideas. Israel had been founded the previous year and the USSR had recognized the new country. In fact, the majority of the Soviet Jews were going to emigrate there. Many Jews were accused of animosity towards the patriotic feelings of the Soviet people, and such accusations were enough for firing from jobs, expulsion from higher education or even arrest.
On February 8, 1949, Stalin signed the resolution to close down the Soviet Jewish Writers’ Union. In the following years, many Jewish writers and journalists were arrested and charged with spying for the USA. All museums of Jewish culture, Jewish theaters and magazines were closed.
The infamous “Doctor’s Plot” – a medical malpractice case - was initiated in January 1953. Nine doctors, six of whom were Jews, were charged with a conspiracy to poison government leaders and with the murders of General-Colonel Andrey Zhdanov and of General-Colonel Aleksandr Sherbakov. The article in the “Pravda” newspaper, the main communist press organ, described the crime and the investigation in a very emotive manner, and laid stress on the ethnic origin of the accused: “The majority of the members of this terrorist group were recruited by the branch of the US secret service – the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalistic organization ‘Joint’.” The woman who slandered the doctors, Ludmila Timoshuk, was decorated with the Order of Lenin.
There is a version of events that the “Doctor’s Plot” was to become a pretext for deporting all the Soviet Jews to Siberia and the Far East. It did not happen, but the campaign, started in 1949, became openly anti-Semitic after the arrests of those doctors. The main newspapers published spiteful caricatures of Jews and satirical articles about their alleged crimes. However, those were the last days of the campaign. After Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953 it was over. The case about “The Doctor’s Plot” was closed, the accused medics were discharged, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mikhail Rumin, who had headed the investigation, was executed.
The explosion in the embassy broke up Soviet-Israeli relations only for a short time. In June 1953, they were formally restored, and in 1967, were broken again due to the Six Day War. That time it was for decades.