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Ukraine's Chief Rabbi Refutes Putin's Anti-Semitic Charges

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters in Russia and the West have accused the Ukrainian opposition that led the fight against the criminal Yanukovych regime and the democratic Ukrainian government that succeeded that regime of being fascist, neo-Nazi, and anti-Semitic.

The following quotations—by Putin and his most unremitting academic supporter in New York City on the one hand, and by three of Ukraine’s leading Jewish officials on the other—should settle the issue. Putin is beyond redemption, of course, but Professor Cohen may want to take account of the evidence and, like a good revisionist historian, revise his views.

Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, March 4, 2014:

Armed and masked militants are still roaming the streets of Kiev…. We see the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev…. [W]e understand what worries the citizens of Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian, and the Russian-speaking population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. It is this uncontrolled crime that worries them.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine, March 3, 2014:

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief rabbi of Ukraine, accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic “provocations” in Crimea in order to justify its invasion of the former Soviet republic. At a press conference in the Manhattan office of the United Jewish Communities of Eastern Europe, Bleich compared Russia’s behavior to that of the Nazis prior to the Anschluss invasion of Austria in 1938.

"Things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists,” he said, adding that it’s “the same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations.”

Bleich, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, also announced the creation of an aid effort, KievRelief.org, to fund security for synagogues and mosques and to provide humanitarian relief for all Ukrainians. Bleich, who moved to Ukraine in 1989 from Brooklyn, was slated, along with other Ukrainian political and religious leaders, to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday. He said he will urge Kerry to be assertive with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to move the G8 Summit to Kiev, as a show of solidarity with Ukrainians, and to consider sending military support to Ukraine. While acknowledging that Americans are “war-weary,” he said Ukrainians need “boots on the ground to protect democracy” and to prevent “the cold war from getting hot.” Asked about anti-Semitism among Ukrainian nationalists, particularly two far-right parties that have been included in the new government, Bleich acknowledged concerns but said the Jewish community has received assurances from top government leaders that their safety will be protected.

“The Russians are blowing this way, way out of proportion,” he said, referring to the issue of anti-Semitism among some Ukrainian nationalist factions. He said that Ukrainians were united in response to the Russian intervention. “There were many differences of opinion throughout the revolution, but today all that is gone,” he said. “We’re faced by an outside threat called Russia. It’s brought everyone together.”

Rabbi Misha Kapustin, rabbi of the Simferopol Reform Synagogue Ner Tamid, Crimea, March 3, 2014:

Many here are against the Russians but are afraid to talk. I am a Ukrainian citizen and want to live in democratic Ukraine. The government has always provided protection for the Jews, and all the talk of anti-Semitism is exaggerated. The Russians have invaded illegally and that must be opposed. So far, people have encouraged me and I don’t believe my petition will cause any harm to the Jews.

Stephen F. Cohen, professor of Russian studies and history at New York University, January 30, 2014:

… the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war under way. What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews, and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Josef Zissels, head of the Association of Jewish Communities of Ukraine and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, January 21, 2014:

On the websites of some parties close to the government, such as those of Viktor Medvedchuk [a Putin ally], Natalia Vitrenko [head of the pro-Stalin Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine], and the Berkut [the riot police responsible for the mass killings in Kyiv], there have appeared in the last two-three weeks many anti-Semitic materials that state that the Jews organized the Maidan. That’s completely absurd, but it’s believed by those who with batons and shields face down the activists. They [the riot police] are being told: look, the Maidan is the work of Jews, so don’t spare anyone, beat them all.

Josef Zissels, January 14, 2014:

The moving force of the Maidan is not the opposition parties, and certainly not the weakest of the opposition parties in the parliament, Svoboda. The moving force of the Maidan are the citizens of Ukraine… The Maidan has no leader. The Maidan is over 40 social organizations and various citizens’ groups. They are Ukraine’s civil society….

I view the coalition of three right parties in Ukraine (Svoboda does not appeal to me as a party) as a factor with which one must come to terms. Svoboda acquired 10.5% of the vote, entered parliament, and became a member of the opposition coalition. I view this situation as a phenomenon similar to the People’s Front in France during World War II: against the common enemy there united communists, social democrats, monarchists, anarchists, and other very different forces.

Ukraine’s key problem is not Svoboda, although Svoboda does indeed represent a certain kind of internal Ukrainian problem. The key problem is the government, its corruption, and its attempt to impose an authoritarian—and as its attack on the Maidan showed, even a totalitarian—form of rule on the country. The opposition united in that conflict with the government. Once the problem of the government is solved, once there will be the first unfalsified elections, then will be the time to deal with our “right-wingers” and “left-wingers.” At the moment, we are all allies against a very powerful enemy.

P.S. On March 4th, Ukrainian Jews wrote an open letter to Putin in which they repeat many of the points made in the above quotations.

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