An attack on a Ukrainian rabbi over the weekend was a provocation, intended as a “justification for the continuation of Russian aggression” in Crimea, one Ukrainian Jewish leader asserted on Saturday.

Such violence serves to “discredit the new government of Ukraine,” Josef Zissels, chairman of the Vaad of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told The Jerusalem Post.

Hillel Cohen, director of the Hatzalah Ukraine volunteer emergency medical service, was stabbed on Friday night in Kiev, making him the third Jew to be assaulted, and the second to be stabbed, in the city since January.

Russia has branded Ukraine’s new authorities as fascists backed by anti-Jewish militants in justifying its takeover of Crimea in justifying its takeover of Crimea and hostility to those who overthrew the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich last month.

During a press conference in Moscow on March 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against the “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev.

“If we see such uncontrolled crime spreading to the eastern regions of the country, and if the people ask us for help, while we already have the official request from the legitimate president, we retain the right to use all available means to protect those people,” he said.

However, Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, head of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine and a vice president of the WJC, and Eduard Dolinksy of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, have downplayed such statements.

In a press conference of his own in New York, also on March 3, Bleich said that “things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists” in the “same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations.”

In an email to the Post, Zissels wrote that he had looked into several attacks against Jewish targets that have occurred since Ukraine’s civil unrest began last November.

The manner in which several of the attacks were carried out and similarities between the incidents indicated a high degree of professionalism, he said.

“I have never claimed that the Russian government or Yanukovich administration were anti-Semitic,” he added. “It is much worse – they are cynically willing to play the Jewish card in the implementation of their objectives, and are therefore [shown to be] willing to sacrifice Jews.

“Neither Simferopol, nor in Zaporozhye [in Crimea] have seen before anti-Semitic graffiti, in these cities there are no nationalist groups,” Zissels said.

While there has been no widespread anti-Semitism in Crimea since the Russian invasion, there has been at least one incident in which the Jewish community was targeted.

Graffiti calling for “Death to the Jews” was found on a synagogue in the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in Simferopol last week, prompting Anatoly Gendin, head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Crimea, to assert that “Jews are [being] held responsible” for the “disasters” facing those living in Crimea.

The World Forum for Russian Speaking Jews held a self-defense workshop in Kiev last week at the urging of the organization’s president, Kiev resident Alexander Levin.

“Now we see that our concern unfortunately was justified,” the forum’s CEO Alex Selsky told the Post. “We call for all the political movements not to redirect the tension and anxiety toward Jews.”

JTA and Reuters contributed to this report.

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