Ukrainian Jews will not run away to avoid military service if an open confrontation breaks out with Russia, the country’s chief rabbi told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Responding to an Israeli media report that yeshiva students in Kiev had received mobilization orders and were considering the best way to leave the country to avoid service, Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich said that while everybody is required to register for the draft, seminary students are traditionally exempted, and that it is unlikely that they will be called upon to fight.
According to a news report in Ma’ariv on Tuesday, several students from Bleich’s community, among others, received their orders as part of a wider mobilization in preparation for a potential conflict with Russia, which has occupied the Crimean peninsula in the wake of Ukraine’s recent political instability.
Members of the community will “do what they have to do,” he asserted. They are “not running away. A lot of it is a lot of baloney and PR to get in the press.
“It’s not right for people to make statements that Jews will run if there will be a war. The Jews didn’t run during the Maidan [protests] and were represented on both sides of the barricades. They are a part of this society.”
Despite several anti-Semitic incidents having occurred since mass protests shook the capital of Kiev three months ago, including two beatings and the firebombing of a synagogue, Bleich asserted that the current situation in Ukraine is “critical but stable.”
The Jewish community feels safer than it did a week ago but not quite as secure as before the protests, he said.
Taking the recent attacks out of context, he continued, makes things seem worse than they are.
While the attacks did occur and are “very serious,” it is not possible to speak with any certainty of a rise in anti-Semitism, he believes.
“In a context of revolution and lawlessness, things happen,” he added, stating that it is currently impossible to know whether the attacks against Jews were provocations by the government meant to make the protesters look like anti-Semites, the natural result of anarchy in the streets or signs of a larger trend.
“We can’t blow it out of proportion and say Jews are being attacked all over,” he said. “There is no reason for panic.”
Bleich also castigated Alexander Boroda, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, who earlier this week told the Post that Bleich’s outspoken opposition to the Russian occupation of Crimea was counterproductive.
Urging Bleich to remain silent, Boroda declared that “Jews and rabbis should stay away from politics.”
In response to Boroda’s comments, Bleich said that he tries not to mix into Russian politics and expects the same of his Russian counterparts.
Besides, he added, “this isn’t politics, it’s a moral issue.”
“All I’m doing is supporting this country for its quest of a normal democratic society without any outside interference,” he said, citing the rampant corruption and, ultimately, violence that characterized the recently ended regime of president Viktor Yanukovich.
“Corruption and shooting people in the streets and the breakup of my country is not politics, and it affects all the Jews of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Feldman, the leader of another Jewish communal organization, is scheduled to brief Israeli officials on the current crisis and to lobby for support on Sunday.