Non-governmental organizations, civil libertarians, and business leaders warn that Ukraine appears to be sliding toward an increasingly nationalistic, anti-Semitic era characterized by hooliganism, threats, and i,n some cases, outright violence to Jews.
The precise degree of the culture’s drift toward a nationalism bordering on fascism -- with a strong anti-Jewish drift -- is difficult to determine. The situation there has been clouded by Russia’s recent invasion and annexation of Crimea, an act that has drawn support for the Kiev government across Europe and the United States.
But the Simon Wiesenthal Center has complained about the growing anti-Semitism in Ukraine and filed several protests in recent months over the direction this nation of 42.5 million souls appears to be taking.
In May, anti-Semitic Facebook posts attributed to a retired Ukrainian general, Vasily Vovk, shook Ukrainian society and triggered alarm bells in democratic nations around the globe.
“I am completely against Jews,” Vovk stated. “You are not Ukrainians and I will destroy you along with Rabinovich.”
“Rabinovitch” is believed to be a reference to the respected Jewish Ukrainian businessman and politician, Vadim Rabinovich. The promise to destroy Jews generally recalled the dark era of Nazi persecution and the Holocaust.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to that broadside with a letter to Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, urging the Ukrainian government “to send a clear message that in democratic Ukraine there will be no tolerance whatsoever for anti-Semites and bigots of any type.”
The ADL joined calls for Vovk, who holds a senior reserve rank with Ukraine security forces, to be fired.
Concern over rising anti-Jewish bigotry in Ukraine escalated further with the news the Ukrainian capital of Kiev intended to name city streets after Ukrainian nationalists Stefan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych.
According to the Wiesenthal Center, Bandera was a nationalist who at one point cooperated with the Nazis. Shukhevych was a general for the WWII-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which has been linked to ethnic cleansing in Nazi-occupied Poland that resulted in at least 76,000 deaths.
The Weisenthal Center responded that “We absolutely oppose and condemn any attempt to turn murderers in the service of the Nazis into Ukrainian heroes. Such a policy is not only an insult to the memory of their innocent victims, but an affront to human dignity and historical truth.”
As with much of Europe, anti-Semitism has waxed and waned for centuries in Ukraine, where Jews have periodically suffered pogroms, assaults, and persecution.
Based on recent events, watchdogs fear Ukraine may be slipping into another phase of bitter intolerance. Among the incidents underlying those concerns:
- Anti-Semitic slogans, including “Down with Jewish power” and “Jews, remember July 1” were painted on a building in Lviv as well. The date is thought to be a reference to a pogrom that occurred in Lviv on July 1, 1941.
- In late June, vandals tossed a firebomb at a synagogue in Lviv. There was no damage to the interior and no one was injured.
- The city of Lviv held a festival in late June celebrating the 110th birthday of the Nazi collaborator Shukhevych. The director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Roman Dolinsky, termed the event “disgraceful.” According to Forward.com, Shukhevych’s militiamen were responsible for the murders of some 6,000 Jews in a series of pogroms.
- In May, JTA.org reported that two swastikas had been painted on the front door of the main synagogue in Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. Also, the headstone of Rabbi Yechiel Hager was smashed in Storozhynets.
- In April, Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Deitsch died. Just 64, he had been savagely beaten in October 2016 in Zhitomir, Ukraine by a group of thugs. Writer/filmmaker Inna Rogatchi called his death “a tragic symbol of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, a phenomenon that the world prefers to ignore.”
- In March, a Ukrainian lawmaker, Nadiya Savchenko, used a slur generally translated as “kikes” during a TV interview. “I have nothing against Jews,” Savchenko said. “I do not like ‘kikes.’” She also complained that Jews have “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.” She also agreed with a caller who objected to a “Jewish takeover of Ukraine.”
- In December, venerated Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s grave in Uman was desecrated, crowned with the decapitated head of a pig with a swastika carved in it. Red paint was splattered about the gravesite as well. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely condemned the desecration, stating, “There is no place for such despicable anti-Semitic acts.” Ukrainian diplomats strongly condemned the vandals as “traitors.”
- In 2015, the Ukrainian government passed a law honoring a group, OUN-UPA, that has been blamed for carrying out pogroms that claimed tens of thousands of Jewish lives. The U.S. Holocaust Museum and other organizations condemned the decision to extol that organization.
Alan Dershowitz, the famed constitutional attorney, has strong ties to Ukraine and follows events there closely. He told Newsmax that anti-Jewish bigotry once again appears to be on the rise in Ukraine.
“Ukraine was among the worst areas of anti-Semitism throughout modern history,” Dershowitz tells Newsmax, “particularly in the western Ukraine. It abated -- there was kind of a moratorium on anti-Semitism more or less from the end of the Holocaust, to fairly recent years.
“We’re seeing the return of classic anti-Semitism, coupled with hyper-nationalism. With hyper-nationalism also comes denial of complicity in the Holocaust. So we’re seeing a lot of Holocaust denial in these areas.”
Dershowitz blames the current anti-Semitic trend on the rise of nationalism and populism.
“I think it’s dangerous,” he says of the growing Ukrainian anti-Semitism. “I don’t think it’s Holocaust-dangerous. I don’t think it’s likely to lead to the kinds of acts of violence on a broad governmental scale, because the governments today would stop that.”
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