Report: Anti-Semitic vandalism spiked in Ukraine in 2014

Popular targets for vandals recorded in report were synagogues and Holocaust memorials, including Kiev’s Babi Yar.

Anti-semitism (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Semitic vandalism in Ukraine, including occurrences of graffiti and attempted arson, spiked in 2014, according to a new report by the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Vaad) of Ukraine.
However, the surge in anti-Semitic violence expected in the wake of early 2014’s Ukrainian revolution, failed to materialize.
Vyacheslav Likhachev, who monitors anti-Semitism for the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and the Vaad, recorded 23 such incidents over the course of the year within both Ukrainian and separatist- held territory. Incidents of vandalism had held steady at nine annually since 2011, having fallen from a peak of 21 in 2006.
“Thus, even though the statistics for 2014 display significant growth in both anti-Semitic vandalism and anti-Semitic violence in comparison with previous years, the peak of the crimes remains in the mid-2000s [first decade of the century], and when taking the long perspective, the situation over the last five years seems to be relatively stable,” Likhachev explained.
Popular targets for vandals were Holocaust memorials, including Kiev’s Babi Yar. Several synagogues, in Zaporizhya, Simferopol, Mykolaiv, Kiev and Hust, also were targeted in attempted arson attacks.
According to Likhachev, the increase in the desecration of Jewish sites can be explained by the fact that “symbolic violence has now been legitimized in Ukrainian society,” with a significant percentage of Ukrainians approving of the destruction of statues of Lenin and other Russian and communist symbols.
“The psychological barrier between theoretical intolerance and symbolic violence has become quite transparent for persons leaning towards radicalism,” he wrote. “One needs to take into account that thousands of young people in Ukraine have experienced making and using incendiary mixtures in the winter struggle, as well as have undergone even more extreme and traumatic experiences that have seriously shifted the boundaries of what is acceptable.”
The researcher added that the Jewish community’s outspoken support for Ukrainian nationalism has “provoked anti-Semitic acts from pro-Russian separatists.”
According to Likhachev’s numbers, however, just four incidents of violence that could definitely be causally linked to anti-Semitic motives occurred during the course of 2014, all of which occurred in the first half of the year in Kiev, the capital.
In January of that year, during the height of the revolution, an Israeli teacher was beaten after leaving synagogue following Shabbat prayers, followed a week later by the stabbing of a local yeshiva student near the same synagogue.
The circumstances surrounding both incidents, including the fact that the attackers knew where to stand to avoid being spotted on security cameras and the detention of a skinhead scoping the premises, led Likhachev to conclude that “we are dealing with a professionally organized provocative act and not with a spontaneous increase in authentic anti-Semitic aggression.”
A number of senior Jewish leaders, including Vaad President Joseph Zissels and Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, have accused the Kremlin of fomenting anti-Semitism to justify its interventions in Ukraine, a charge denied by Russia.
“Even though I lack complete certainty in this, I will allow myself the tentative supposition that some anti-Semitic incidents, including both attacks and acts of vandalism, were of a provocative character, intended for use in propaganda – first in context of the struggle against former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich with the Maidan protesters and then to legitimate Russian aggression. I believe that it is quite likely that the January attacks on religious Jews in Kiev, the February desecration of the synagogue in Simferopol, acts of vandalism in Odessa and possibly some other incidents were all provocations,” Likhachev asserted.
Accusations of anti-Semitism have been used by both the pre-revolutionary Ukrainian government, to discredit protesters, and the Russians, to discredit the post-revolutionary government. Some anti-Semitic statements by separatist leaders, as well as Ukrainian nationalists also have been recorded, though a letter ostensibly on behalf of the rebels calling on Jews to register themselves is widely believed to have been a forgery.
Some Ukrainians held protests against what they termed the “regime of Yids and Khazars” following the appointment of a Jew as parliamentary speaker in December.
“Notably, the use of anti-Semitism in public rhetoric has been greatest in territories occupied by Russia, parts of Donetsk and Lugansk districts,” wrote Likhachev.
While the number of incidents of vandalism did increase, however, it was not significant, according to a recent report by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University.
According to the Kantor Center, violent anti-Semitism surged 40 percent in 2014, especially in western Europe.
Thirty-eight percent of Ukrainians harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, according to the Anti-Defamation League.