A vote by Ukraine’s parliament to confirm a Jew as speaker will not have a large direct impact on Ukrainian Jewry, sources within Kiev’s local community told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Volodymyr Groysman, a Jewish MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc was the only candidate nominated for the position, Interfax Ukraine reported. He had previously served as Mayor of Vinnytsia, Regional Development, Construction and Communal Living Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
However, while his ascension to the parliamentary speaker does indicate that Ukraine has become a more open and multi-ethnic country in which “every person can get any position independent of his ethnic origin,” said Eduard Dolinsky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, a lobbying organization, “for the Jewish community it's not much of a difference.”
The UJC was founded by Kharkiv businessman and MP Oleksandr Feldman, a former member of ousted President Victor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, which has reconstituted itself as the Opposition Bloc. Feldman was reelected as an independent in October’s elections.
According to Dolinsky, Groysman “doesn't any connection to the Jewish community” and may be “half-Jewish” through his father’s side, though he thought that the matter was unclear. Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, however, has declared him a member of the tribe according to Orthodox law.
Bleich did agree, however, that the choice of Groysman will have “no real significance for the Jewish community other than the feeling that Jews are an integral party of society.”
“I think that it is just another proof that Ukraine is a normal multi-cultural society,” he told the Post.
Groysman is not the only Jewish politician to make it big in Ukrainian politics since the revolution. Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch and head of the United Jewish Communities of Ukraine, was appointed as governor of the strategically vital Dnepropetrovsk region and has been a driving for behind Kiev’s military campaign against Moscow-backed separatists in the east, personally financing the equipping of front line military units. Radim Rabinovich, another Jewish oligarch, has taken a prominent role in the Opposition Bloc. While he was roundly defeated at the polls during May’s presidential election, he did beat out candidates from the ultra-nationalist Svoboda and Pravy Sektor parties.
Russia has consistently accused post-revolution Kiev of being dominated by the xenophobic far right.
“It could never occur to anybody that radicals and neo-Nazis could come to dominate Ukrainian politics,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told deputies in Russia’s parliament just over a week ago.
While several members of Svoboda, which has been accused of being a neo-Nazi organization by the World Jewish Congress, indeed served in the interim government, the party has lost most of its political support during the latest round of elections and has little if any influence in the current coalition.
While anti-Semitism has not disappeared, with a firebomb thrown at a Kiev synagogue prior to Rosh Hashanah and the Babi Yar memorial site twice desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti in recent months, members of the local Jewish community have expressed less concern over anti-Semitism than over the ongoing war in the east.
Speaking to the Post after Russian newspapers printed stories regarding a non-existent wave of attacks against Jewish targets in Odessa, one community leader said that he thinks that even the extreme nationalists, who would be most likely to attack Jews, are more focused on what they see as the Russian threat take any significant action. Several Jewish leaders even went so far as to blame Putin for fomenting anti-Semitic unrest for his own political ends.
While anti-Semitism seems to have become politically unpopular and Ukrainian leaders have gone out of their way to express support for their country’s Jewish citizens, there are still scenarios in which the prominence of Jews can backfire, said Darina Privalko, who runs the Jewish Travel and Studies Center of Darina Privalko in Kiev.
“Whether the current fragile balance between Ukrainian Jews and ultra-right nationalists remain depends on a great variety of factors that are difficult to predict at the moment, from actual results of the economic policy of the new Ukrainian government and their impact on general well-being of the Ukrainian population to cessation of hostility from the side of the Eastern neighbor.”
“The obvious current impact of the current situation on Ukrainian Jews is the growth of Aliya to Israel, especially ever since the Israel Embassy in Ukraine simplified the procedures for refugees from the Eastern regions who have the Right of Return. While so far the reasons for Aliya are purely political and economic, anti-Semitism may become yet another driving factor in the future, in the event the attempts of the new Ukrainian leaders prove to be inefficient and the gloomy prognosis of impeding economic crisis, protracted depression, hyper-inflation, cold winter and widening of the military operation comes true, affecting the vast majority of the Ukrainian population.”
“The rise of anti-Semitism is possible, since the first to [be] blamed would be the government and local authorities, both deposed and interim [should the war take a turn for the worse] while the Jewish origin of many prominent politicians has long been the subject of anti-Semitic speculations,” she said.
However, she added, the rising nationalism of many Jews could also contribute to an increase in assimilation.
“Those Jews who prefer to keep a low profile and abstain from strong statements or open confrontation on any of sides, as their historic memory says that at the end of the days Jews would be blamed anyway, may prefer to disappear in the winning majority.”