Diaspora Affairs: ‘We are ready to fight’

The Ukrainian Jewish Committee’s Eduard Dolinsky opens up to the ‘Post’ about the Jewish response to the rise of the Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda.

Svoboda Ukraine370 (photo credit: Gleb Garanich/Reuters)
Svoboda Ukraine370
(photo credit: Gleb Garanich/Reuters)
KIEV – Eduard Dolinsky has a youthful face and composed expression that belie his intense responsibilities. As the executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, the main representative body of Ukrainian Jewry, Dolinsky is on the front lines of the Jewish community’s battle against the Svoboda party, a far-right nationalist faction that is widely perceived as anti-Semitic.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post during a series of interviews in the Fairmont Hotel in Kiev during the 2013 Kiev Interfaith Forum, an event organized by Jewish parliamentarian and UJC founder Oleksandr Feldman, Dolinsky opined on anti-Semitism, the rebirth of religion in his country and the Jewish response to Svoboda.
Svoboda, formerly the Social-National Party of Ukraine, was considered an extremist fringe group until its entry into the Rada, or Ukrainian parliament, in 2012. The party currently has 36 out of 450 mandates.
Party head Oleg Tyagnibok raised the hackles of the Jewish community when he stated that “Ukraine is being controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia.”
Statements such as this, Dolinsky says, are only the tip of the iceberg.
“They still insist that the name of the Jews is ‘zhid’ [a derogatory term] and not ‘yevrey,’” he says. “They are “insisting on this despite the whole Jewish community saying that we are strongly against using this word.
They said, ‘No, we Ukrainians have the right to use this word.’” Among Svoboda’s policies, he says, is proportional representation in the arts, politics and business. The party does not want to “take the smartest or the best to lead this country. They are saying it will be proportional.”
Such a policy would be devastating for the Ukraine’s Jewish minority, he says. “It’s very similar to what the Nazis said. it’s different but it’s [also] something that’s very close.”
One of the ways of striking back, Dolinsky believes, is interfaith dialogue. Events such as this year’s third annual Interfaith Forum are a chance for local church leaders and the Jewish community to meet and discuss issues.
While senior members of the church sat inside with rabbis, imams and monks, a group of older women stood outside protesting. However, Dolinsky says, progress has been made.
“If you look at the churches for the last 10, 15 years, they never made any expression of anti-Semitism or anything like that. But the regular people, they do carry some old stereotypes that still exist, and we believe that what we do now is a step forwards for the better understanding between us. I can’t say that after this conference all the Ukrainians will say that the Jews are our brothers and we will hug each other, but this is a long way and these are the small steps.
“The country went through horrific tragedies like the Holocaust [and Communism] and the churches and the Jewish religion were destroyed completely. So during the [last] 20 years of [Ukrainian] independence, the churches, the synagogues were recovering and restoring, and we feel that the time came for interfaith dialogue – which has already existed for many years in the West.”
However, he adds, when it comes to Svoboda, education must “come second” to law enforcement.
The problem, he believes, is that while Ukraine has ordinances on the books against incitement to racial hatred, it is very hard to enforce these rules due to the need to prove intent.
“There are some articles in the criminal code that they can be charged but they are very general and to prove the intention is almost impossible,” he explains.
“There is a law about inciting ethnic hatred.”
While there are several Jewish MPs in parliament, he says, not all of them have been strong opponents of Svoboda. “We do have some other Jewish members of parliament. But to my surprise, Svoboda was trying through one of our Jewish members of parliament to organize a visit of their leaders to Israel,” he alleges.
“One of our Jewish members of parliament was trying to help them with this.”
However, he says, despite the Israeli ambassador meeting with the leader of the Svoboda party, the Israeli Foreign Ministry put a stop to official contacts between the Jewish state and the rightist faction.
Dolinsky says that Svoboda is very popular and “if the election were held now they would take even more seats.”
The Jewish community, he continues, was “very shocked when they entered the parliament.” The community is still in a “state of disorder” and does not yet “have a solution [or] a plan.”
However, despite the lack of a clear plan of attack, the Jewish community, he asserts belligerently, is “ready to fight.”