Ukrainian Jews are split in their perceptions of the potential dangers towards
their community due to recent massive anti-government protests around the
Following a rebuff of the European Union last week, hundreds of
thousands of Ukrainians came out to protest against President Viktor
Yanukovich’s turn towards Russia.
On Friday, under pressure from Moscow,
Yanukovich dropped plans to sign a free trade pact with Brussels that would have
integrated the post-Soviet nation much more firmly into the western
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing Ukraine to join a
Moscow-led customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which he hopes to develop
into a political and economic “Eurasian Union,” to match the might of the US and
Some local Jews have been worrying that the presence of Svoboda,
one of the leading opposition factions and a significant presence in the street
protests, may portend an ugly turn for the Ukraine.
Oleg Tyahnybok, the
leader of Svoboda, which has been called an anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi party by
the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations, is one of the four
“emerging leaders” of the protests, according to The Financial
According to FT, while many in the capital Kiev do not agree with
Svoboda’s strident ultra-nationalism, the “highly disciplined party is providing
important organizational support for the current protests” and opposition
activists will tolerate the party if it assists in their goal of forcing
Yanukovich to step down.
Not all protesters have tolerated Svoboda,
however, with university students pushing a local party chief from a podium at a
rally of some 20,000 in the western city of Lviv.
“took the Kyiv administration building,” Tyahnybok told protesters according to
Radio Free Europe.
The Jerusalem Post was not able to independently
verify his claim.
Party leader Oleg Tyagnibok has previously made the
accusation that “Ukraine is being controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia,” Irena
Cantorovich, a scholar at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Kantor Database for the
Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, said earlier this
Rabbi Moshe Azman, a local Chabad emissary and one of several men
claiming the title of Chief Rabbi, told Israeli news website Arutz Sheva that he
had cancelled several public events for the commemoration of hanukka due to
fears of violence by protesters.
After lighting the Menorah in the
capital’s Central Synagogue, Azman “announced the cancellation of all the events
He told Arutz Sheva this was due to fears that “groups
of hooligans” would act against Jewish targets under the cover of the
Azman specifically cited Svoboda as a factor that could drive
the protests out of hand, however, not everybody agreed with him.
Jonathan Markovitch, of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Kiev who is also
a Chabad hasid, told the Post that there is no connection between the protests
and the Jewish community, and that his community has continued to hold public
events in connections with the holiday.
“We have been holding menorah
lightings among the crowds of protesters,” he told the Post.
following developments in Ukraine closely and remain in continual contact with
our representatives on the ground and with local Jewish communities,” American
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee spokesman Michael Geller told the Post on
“Our FSU Director Ofer Glanz has made it clear that we stand
ready to provide needy members of the community with extra food, medicine or
other forms of relief should the situation require it.”
A pig’s head was
left on the doorstep of a synagogue being built in Sevastopol earlier this
month, the Ukrainian city’s Jewish community said.
Several days ago it
was reported that a Ukrainian website had uploaded a video game in which players
can kill Jews and other “enemies” of the Ukraine.
Reuters and JTA
contributed to this report.