Natan Sharansky with Jewish Agency program participants 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy JAFI)
The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency For Israel are set to meet on Sunday in Kiev; the first time that the body has convened in the former Soviet Union. The board's thrice yearly meetings typically take place in Jerusalem.
Chairman Natan Sharansky said that the decision to hold the meeting in Kiev "was part of the Jewish Agency’s efforts to strengthen its connection with the Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union" as well as "a reflection of the shared destiny and the solidarity between world Jewry and Ukrainian Jewry."
There are somewhere around 200,000 Jews in the Ukraine, according to the Jewish Agency, and "each year thousands of Ukrainians choose to immigrate to Israel." There has been growing disquiet among members of the local Jewish community over the electoral successes of the far-right Svoboda party, whose leader has been quoted as saying that “Ukraine is being controlled by a Russian- Jewish mafia."
However, not all Ukrainian Jews have expressed their happiness with the decision to host the meeting in Kiev. In March, Josef Zissels, chairman of the Vaad of Ukraine, sent Sharansky a letter of protest signed by human rights activists and academics, stating that their opposition to the meeting due to the unmistakable “assault on political and social rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.”
“We, the representatives of the Jewish community and the leaders of a number of Ukrainian Jewish organizations, scholars and former Soviet political prisoners are concerned” about the meeting, he wrote.
However, in response, Oleksandr Feldman, a Jewish member of parliament and the president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, said that he “strongly opposes the call to cancel JAFI board meeting in Ukraine.”
“I, myself and all my colleagues are looking forward to JAFI board meeting in Kiev which we believe will strengthen the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora [and] will help in the revival of the Jewish community of Ukraine.”
Among those scheduled to attend the gathering are immigrant absorption minister Sofa Landver, World Forum of Russian Jewry head Alexander Levin and Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Konstantin Grishchenko.