A Ukrainian soldier stands on a military vehicle at a checkpoint at the road near a Crimea region border March 9, 2014. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid mounting Russian claims of escalating anti-Semitism propagated by right-wing Ukrainian nationalists in the contested Crimean peninsula, senior members of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee patently dismissed such rhetoric as “lies” and “propaganda.”
“There is no imminent danger to Jews in Crimea,” said Edward Dolinsky, the committee’s director-general, at a press conference held Sunday at the Jerusalem Press Club. “The situation is being manipulated by the Russian government to make the world believe they are protecting us.”
Dolinsky, who is visiting the capital with a Jewish delegation from Ukraine over the next two days, said he likened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims to “Nazi propaganda.”
“It’s absolutely dangerous and being said to protect Russian interests, just like [Hitler] said he wanted to protect Germans in his propaganda,” he said.
Moreover, Oleksandr Feldman, a member of the Ukraine parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, said that extreme nationalistic groups in the country known for their unabashed anti-Semitism have been reined in considerably.
Noting that anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery were most pronounced during the 2012 parliament election by parties such as Svoboda, he claimed the European Union and other embassies have since helped significantly diminish the threat.
“The Freedom Party and Svoboda are actually failing and being suppressed by the Right sector because they see it just doesn’t pay to speak about Jews these days,” he said. “I believe [that] in their hearts they still have anti-Semitic tendencies, but now it’s considered improper [to discuss].”
Still, Feldman cautioned that we shouldn’t “fool ourselves” into thinking the Right has “become more civilized.”
“My main message is that even though anti-Semitism that was so pronounced in 2012 [has abated] because the EU has become involved, we can’t change the sentiment of anti-Semitism in a few months,” he said. “We need to continue to fight anti-Semitic tendencies, or else they will become more public.”
With respect to Crimea’s approximately 10,000-member Jewish community, Feldman said the peninsula’s four synagogues may become Russian, but that Jews there are generationally divided over the prospect of secession.
“Half say they are happy to be part of the Russian Federation because of the social benefits; they claim that their pensions will be three times higher there,” he said. “But rabbis and the younger generation are strongly against it because they want to raise their children in Ukraine.”
Feldman added that his delegation has not been invited to meet with government officials in the capital during its visit, and claimed that the Ukrainian Jewish community is “highly frustrated” by the Israeli government’s lackluster response to the nation’s upheaval.
While he said he met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman one month ago and submitted a written request from the Jews in Ukraine for the government to help increase security in their communities, he said little has come to fruition.
“Liberman forwarded our request to the Jewish Agency, which since [then has] issued a statement with the intention to help and [allocated] $5,000,” he said. “However, our request to have Israeli security professionals inspect schools and communities has yet to be implemented.”
“We have asked the Foreign Ministry to issue a clear statement of support to a country which is struggling for its independence and sovereignty, but have yet to see one,” he said.
Still, Feldman did not elaborate on why Israeli security experts were needed, noting that there has been no discussion in Ukraine about a “Jewish state of emergency.”
“We don’t think it will get to that point,” he said. “But we are prepared for such a situation.”
He said he is disappointed that the Israeli government has not offered financial support for the hospital care of nine non-Jewish Ukrainians sent to Israel after being seriously injured during recent rioting.
“The government has not responded to our financial requests,” he said. “We ask that it respond to these nine individuals as a [goodwill] gesture to create a partnership with Ukraine in our many endeavors.”
Feldman added that on April 2 the Ukrainian Jewish Committee will host its fourth annual interfaith national forum, featuring participants from 50 countries coming together to discuss anti-Semitism.