JEWS ATTEND the morning prayer at a synagogue in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, earlier this year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has no plans to participate in a roundtable on fascism and anti-Semitism organized by the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), despite separatist claims to the contrary, a representative of the organization in Kiev told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The Russian-backed separatists in control of the eastern Ukrainian city have consistently maintained that the Ukrainian government in Kiev elected after the 2013 Maidan revolution constitutes a fascist junta rife with anti-Semitism.
“We are not going to participate in this,” an OSCE official who asked to remain anonymous told the Post when asked about a separatist statement asserting the organization’s participation.
The OSCE is currently working to monitor the compliance of both sides (Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists) with the Minsk accords, governing the pullback of heavy weapons and implementation of a cease-fire in the disputed regions of Ukraine.
Last week, the DNR announced that it would hold the roundtable in order to commemorate the victims of crimes of “national hatred” as well as to discuss “current tendencies in [the] fight against neo-fascism.”
Donetsk Rabbi Aryeh Shvartz told the Post that he intends to attend the gathering and that he believed that it was “not something political.
It’s important to the community.
If it was political I would certainly not go to that,” he said.
Around three quarters of Donetsk’s Jewish community of 10,000 to 11,000 have fled the city since the outbreak of hostilities last year.
Asked to comment on previous anti-Semitic statements made by separatist leaders, Shvartz said that he had not heard of any, but “it could be. I didn’t see it. I don’t know what to tell you.”
Earlier this year, DNR President Alexander Zakharchenko told reporters that Ukraine was being run by “miserable Jews.” Several months later, the leader of the nearby separatist Luhansk People’s Republic made a similar statement, intimating that several senior Ukrainian politicians were secretly Jewish and asserting that the Jews were responsible for the 2013-2014 revolution.
Journalists have pointed to examples of neo-Nazi rhetoric and the participation of farright extremists on both sides of the conflict, but for the most part anti-Semitism has been confined to the realm of propaganda. Displaced Jews fleeing the war zone have said that they did not feel that they were being targeted based on their religion.
Last April, rebel leaders in Donetsk distanced themselves from a flyer posted outside of their city’s synagogue demanding that Jews register themselves with the city’s new government. At the time, Pinchas Vishedski, then city rabbi, theorized that it could be the work of “anti-Semites looking to hitch a ride on the current situation.”
In September, the DNR’s Jewish foreign minister Alexander Kofman denied allegations that Zakharchenko was an anti-Semite, telling the Russian Jewish website lechaim.ru that the issue of his religion had never come up between them.
According to Irena Cantorovich, who researches anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union at Tel Aviv University, “Antisemitic views constantly appear in the separatists’ mass media and websites.”
“A recent example from a few days ago is an article claiming that Israel deliberately provides medications containing barbed wire, which kills patients. The article was uploaded on the official page of the Donetsk municipal TV station sponsored by the People’s Republic of Donetsk on the “Odnoklassniki” social network,” she said.
Given that the “Luhansk and Donetsk separatists are using antisemitism to promote their goals… it seems macabre that they will hold such a conference.”
Vyacheslav Likhachev, who monitors anti-Semitism for the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Vaad of Ukraine, believes that the roundtable was organized as an exercise in propaganda.
Given the central place that the fight against German fascism plays in the historical memory of the citizens of the former Soviet Union, one of the best ways to mobilize the population behind any cause is to link it to World War II, he explained, stating that “it’s very useful and very easy material to use for propaganda.
“The problem is that it changes nothing in the ideology and general rhetoric of the leaders of the republic, and the paradox is that at the same time they are using anti-fascist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”