In recent months, The Federalist ran a disturbing op-ed titled “Volodymyr Zelensky is no Jewish hero,” which suggested the Ukrainian president’s interfaith marriage and Baptized children are contributing to a second Holocaust. The article was written by my former Trump administration colleague Jonathan Bronitsky and Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer, who published me in 2021. Like me, they are both Jewish but in writing this column, they have only helped the Kremlin’s cause.
Bronitsky and Hammer wrote: “There’s a long-running and complex debate over what constitutes Jewish identity. But there’s no question that Zelensky’s life choices have been inimical to the survival of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. Since the end of the Holocaust, Jews have spoken of a 614th additional commandment to the Torah: Thou shalt not grant Hitler posthumous victories.
"Despite what the secular Left and large swaths of liberal Jewry claim, interfaith marriage is an exponentially greater threat to the Jewish people than white supremacy. In 2019, then-Israeli education minister Rafi Peretz described the intermarriage rate among Jewish Americans as being like a second Holocaust."
These dangerous statements assert that despite Zelensky’s bravery in fighting for the survival of Ukraine and the tens of thousands of Jews who live there, he is more of a threat to the survival of the Jewish people because he married and procreated outside his religion. While Bronitsky and Hammer say they oppose giving Hitler posthumous victories, their rationale is rooted in abhorrent purity arguments. Minimizing Zelensky’s Jewish heritage also makes it easier for the Kremlin to reinforce its false narrative that Nazis are running Ukraine.
The attack by Bronitsky and Hammer on Zelensky and their public denunciation of purported race mixing does nothing to advance the right of Jewish people to live freely and peacefully with others. On the contrary, it reinforces the misperception that the Jewish people are elitist and inclusive, which could create a backlash against Jews who are already facing a resurgence of antisemitism.
While a violent backlash against Jews may be an unintended consequence of this kind of hateful rhetoric, it is hard to imagine the authors of this op-ed did not anticipate how it could benefit the Kremlin or appeal to Zelensky’s antisemitic critics who also oppose interfaith and interracial marriage and procreation.
Although the op-ed purports to aim at a Jewish audience who would otherwise be offended by how Zelensky practices his faith, it will more likely serve as a dog whistle to antisemites hungry for fodder against prominent Jewish figures.
Despite fighting for his nation’s independence and sovereignty against a hostile power that chose to invade his nation, Zelensky has counterintuitively become a target of right-wing nationalists who resent him as a globalist. It is therefore not surprising that Mr. Hammer has repeatedly lashed out against Zelensky and even signed a declaration calling for good-faith peace talks to acknowledge Russia’s legitimate security needs while demanding President Joe Biden oppose regime change in Moscow.
Like Zelensky, I also fail to meet the authors’ misguided standards for Jewish heroism and racial purity. Five years ago, I joined the US Army Reserve as a judge advocate because of my long-held admiration and gratitude for everything America did to liberate Jewish people during the Holocaust and others elsewhere.
But I do not go to temple often and I am engaged to marry a Catholic woman. By the authors’ criteria, this makes me an exponentially greater threat to the Jewish people than white supremacy and part of a second Holocaust, despite my service to America’s values of equality and liberty.
Although my Army dog tags say that I am Jewish, my uniform rightly only identifies me as an American soldier. As a Ukrainian, Zelensky is the president of all Ukrainians, not just those of Jewish heritage. But this does not mean Zelensky cannot also be a hero to Jewish people just as much as he is to his country and the free world. The racist rhetoric propounded by Bronitsky and Hammer that calls Zelensky’s Jewish identity into question offends all the good that Judaism promotes.
Hopefully, my fellow Jews will see these pro-Kremlin attacks for what they are. Zelensky’s courage in risking his life to preserve the independence of his people should be applauded by all who cherish freedom instead of distorting his Jewish identity for the benefit of those who would welcome a second Holocaust.
The writer is an attorney and an investigative journalist who has reported on Russian affairs. He served as a senior adviser for the Trump administration at the US Agency for Global Media, 2017-21.