by Isi Leibler –
The international crisis created by Putin’s military incursion into Crimea has also served to highlight again Russia’s relationship to the Jews. The Russian President has included radical nationalism and antisemitism in the Ukraine as major justifications for his intervention.
I have personal experience of the feral antisemitism which pervaded the region from my direct dealings with senior Soviet authorities in the campaign to free Soviet Jewry which was the central focus of my public life for many years. I have no doubt that both in the Ukraine and Russia, a substantial proportion of the population continues to hate and fear Jews.
Yet today it is almost surreal, particularly when recalling the major contribution of Soviet Jewish dissidents towards the downfall of the Evil Empire, to observe President Putin, the authoritarian, former KGB official, displaying overt friendship towards Jews and Israel.
We are under no misapprehensions. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a democracy. But on a relative scale, the corruption and xenophobia currently dominating Ukraine is more extreme than in Russia where Putin has suppressed antisemites and repeatedly made friendly gestures to the Jewish community. For example, he provided $50 million of state funding for a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow in addition to which he symbolically personally donated a month’s salary. In this he displayed total indifference to enraging the powerful antisemitic elements in Russian society.
Putin is a nationalist and his primary motivation is to restore Russia as a global power. This is what propelled him to intervene in Georgia and now in Ukraine to what he regards as a threatening NATO intrusion in his sphere of influence and on his borders. Russians compare this reaction to that of Kennedy’s 1962 response to Khrushchev’s effort to introduce missiles into Cuba.
Ukraine, like Russia, has a long history of violent anti-Semitism that dates back to the 1648 Khmelnitsky pogroms and continues through the Beiliss blood libel – still an issue of contention amongst many Ukrainians – and the Russian Civil War when tens of thousands of Jews were butchered.
The existing Ukrainian Jewish community, estimated to be around 200,000, has good reason to be fearful. Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has spawned thriving xenophobic right-wing parties which are alleged to have spearheaded the revolt against the corrupt President Viktor Yanukovich. Although only gaining 10% electoral support, these are genuine neo-Nazis who even employ swastika symbols and are openly anti-Semitic. Successive Ukrainian governments have ignored or condoned their extremist activities and made no effort to prosecute them.
Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of Svoboda, the largest right wing extremist nationalist faction, which holds 37 seats in the government, has called for the liberation of Ukraine from the “Muscovite-Jewish Mafia” and refers to his opponents as “Zhids”. His deputy, Yuri Mykhalchyshyn, founded a think tank initially called “The Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre”
The party activists have circulated translations of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They revere Stepan Bandera, a onetime ally of Nazi Germany whose troops murdered tens …read more