The organized Ukrainian Jewish community has split on its approach toward the
country’s current political crisis this weekend, with Chief Rabbi Dov Bleich,
head of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, attending failed talks between the
government and opposition protesters. Last week, the Ukrainian Jewish Committee,
a separate Jewish group, made a public call for Jews to remain neutral and to
maintain a low profile.
In a statement on Thursday, the American- born
Bleich said he was “very confident” the round-table discussions could lead to a
breakthrough despite the current stalemate.
“All parties have the best
interests of the country at heart but this is a time for patience and an open
mind,” he said. “The Jewish community of Ukraine has enjoyed a positive
relationship with the government but is known to be largely pro-European,” read
the statement, which was jointly issued by Bleich and the Conference of European
President Viktor Yanukovich, yielding to calls from the
international community, began round-table talks with the opposition to try to
find a way out of the conflict which has put Ukraine at the center of an
But with the opposition insisting on core demands
such as the dismissal of his government, the talks seemed unlikely to head off
another outpouring of anger against him on Sunday.
The round-table talks
represented the first direct encounter any of the three opposition leaders have
had with Yanukovich in months of crisis around his policy towards
This came to a head on November 21 when his government suddenly
backed off a landmark trade-and-political agreement with the European Union
after years of preparation, and announced it was reviving trade relations
instead with former overseer Moscow.
Since then, the capital has been
roiled by sometimes harshly handled pro-Europe rallies, involving hundreds of
thousands of people at the weekends, who accuse Yanukovich of turning the clock
back and selling out national interests to the Kremlin.
between the sides came as protesters streamed into the capital from mainly
western regions for a mass rally on Sunday, boosting thousands already camped
out on Kiev’s Independence Square, focal point of recent
The close proximity of the two opposing camps has led
some to worry that the two sides may come to blows.
Saturday dismissed the head of Kiev’s state administration, Oleksandr Popov, and
a national security aide over November 30 violence in which riot police used
batons and stun grenades to disperse the crowd at the Maidan.
Jewish leaders have expressed their concerns over the prominent role that the
ultra-nationalist Svoboda party has played in the protests. Svoboda’s leader,
Oleg Tyagnibok, unlike many in the European far Right, is a supporter of greater
European integration, due to his opposition to what he considers undue Russian
influence in the former Soviet republic. He has stated that he believes his
country “is being controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia.” Svoboda has 36 out of
450 seats in the parliament, 8 percent.
It is precisely this worry that
led the Ukrainian Jewish Congress, a body founded by Jewish oligarch and
legislator Oleksandr Feldman, to call for communal neutrality.
an independent, is part of Yanukovich’s governing coalition and has previously
defended the president’s policy towards the European Union.
has certainly moved to repair relations with Russia, but he has also set firm
limits on how far he is prepared to go,” Feldman wrote in an article on
net in 2010. “Forced to choose between a customs union
with Russia and a free trade area with the EU, Kiev continues to make clear an
overwhelming preference for the latter.
“The influential industrial lobby
from Yanukovich’s home region of Donetsk wants access to the bigger and more
business friendly markets of Europe,” Feldman wrote. “To portray Yanukovich’s
desire to rebalance his country’s diplomatic focus as an attempt to subordinate
Ukraine to Russia’s will is therefore mischievous and false.”
clashes between police and protesters in the early morning hours on Wednesday,
members of Kiev’s Jewish community gathered in the city’s Brodsky Synagogue to
recite psalms for peace.
“We cannot be indifferent in this moment,” local
Chabad Rabbi Moshe Azman said. “We pray to the Almighty to help Ukraine and give
His blessing to its people.”
JTA contributed to this report.