The Politics of Anti-Semitism in Ukraine

Rabbi Pinchas Vyshetsky at his synagogue in Donetsk with one of the pamphlets given out while leaving the synagogue earlier this week. (Derek Stoffel/CBC News)

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Pamphlets threatening Jews have left many reeling as Russians and Ukrainians on each side of the divide accuse the other of smear tactics to catch international sympathies. Given the painful history of anti-Semitism in the region, Jewish leaders in Ukraine and internationally are wary and even angry.

"This looks like a provocation. And we understand that this is not something against us, against the Jewish community. Someone tried to use us, the Jewish community, in the politic conflict here in Donetsk and in Ukraine."

Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski, chief rabbi of Donetsk

For weeks, militants in the Ukraine with pro-Russian sentiments have occupied administrative buildings in the city of Donetsk. Fears and hatreds intensify, including an old one that seemingly refuses to go away. Worshippers at a synagogue in Donetsk were shocked when they left a Passover service last week. Masked men handed out leaflets that demanded Jews identify themselves to the authorities ... ordering the Jews of Donetsk to register, pay a fine or leave the area.

The leaflets were purportedly signed by the leader of the Donetsk People's Republic... the newly declared and unrecognized state that claims to represent ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. However, that group denies any connection. In fact, the pro-Russian militants accuse the Ukrainian government in Kyiv of fascism and anti-Semitism.

Michael Salberg is Director of International Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League and he was in New York.


putin-anti-semitism-insert560.jpg

Vladimir Putin in March, blamed the coup that removed Viktor Yanukovych partly on anti-Semites and fascists.
(Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

"Who carried out the coup in Ukraine? Neo-nazis, nationalists and fascists. And they still define the country's political agenda."

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Not to be outdone, Ukraine's interim President, Oleksander Turchynov made a similar accusation against Moscow.

"Today the Russian President, Vladimir Putin who likes to talk about fascism, copies the fascists of the last century by annexing the territory of an independent state."

Ukraine's interim President, Oleksander Turchynov

Ukrainians and Russians have their differences, but they share enough history to know how insulting it is to be called a Nazi. James Kirchick is a journalist and a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington DC. We reached him today in Helsinki.


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This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Catherine Kalbfleisch.

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