Wiesenthal Center to Ukraine: Prosecute anti-Semitic attacks as hate crimes

Center's director for Int'l relations: "It's time that someone who came to power on a platform of a 'new Ukraine' take on this issue."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko on Tuesday to prosecute recent anti-Semitic attacks in the country as hate crimes. "Ukraine must live up to its commitment as a member both of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to actively root out anti-Semitism and racism as hate crimes, and not as minor misdemeanors of vandalism or hooliganism," read a letter written to Yuschenko by the Wiesenthal Center's Director for International Relations Dr. Shimon Samuels. "Until now, the government treated anti-Semitic [attacks] as hooliganism," Samuels explained to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, "so if they were punished, it was always minor." But "in the wake of a string of incidents," Samuels added, "it's time that someone who came to power on a platform of a 'new Ukraine' take on this issue." In the latest anti-Semitic attack in the Ukraine, vandals defaced a monument to Holocaust victims and hundreds of Jewish graves in Odessa in southern Ukraine with red swastikas and an inscription reading "we welcome you with the Holocaust." Samuels also offered Yuschenko the training services of the Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which has trained some 90,000 police officers from Argentina, France, Germany and Britain in social pluralism "and the necessity of combating anti-Semitism," he told the Post . In the letter, Samuels called the recent spate of attacks "a direct message" to President Yuschenko that "challenges you to strictly impose Ukrainian legal penalties on the perpetrators. "Silence would only encourage further violence, not only against Jews," Samuels concluded, and would constitute "a menace to Ukrainian democracy itself."