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January 23, 2014 1:49 am

Anti-Semitic Violence Frightens Ukrainian Jews Amid Protests

avatar by Alina Dain Sharon / JNS.org

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Protests in Ukraine. Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.orgTwo violent anti-Semitic incidents that took place in Kiev, Ukraine, over the course of a week have alarmed the Ukrainian Jewish community. Some experts speculate that the events could be related to the political conflict that has engulfed the country since November 2013.

On Jan. 11, several men attacked Hillel Wertheimer, an Orthodox Jewish and Israeli teacher of Hebrew and Jewish tradition, after he left a synagogue at the end of Shabbat. On Jan. 18, a yeshiva student, Dov-Ber Glickman, was severely attacked by men with their fists and legs on his way home from a Shabbat meal.

According to the general Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) General Council, the combat boots of Glickman’s attackers may have been outfitted with blades. Glickman dragged himself to a nearby synagogue’s ritual bath, where he was discovered and taken to a hospital. Glickman told IDF Radio on Sunday that “people are now afraid to leave their homes.”

“The frightening thing is that [the attackers] arrived by car, and were apparently organized,” Hillel Cohen, chairman of the Hatzalah Ukraine emergency services group, told Yedioth Ahronot.

In an additional incident on Jan. 18, yeshiva students detained a suspicious individual who, according to the students, was found to possess a detailed plan of the surrounding neighborhood.

Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) director of Russian Jewish community affairs, believes the incidents could be a “sinister sign indicating that some are trying to use anti-Semitism in political confrontation in Ukraine.”

“Historically in this part of the world, a political confrontation sooner or later starts to exploit the ‘Jewish question’ and to play the Jewish card,” Kliger told JNS.org in an email.

Jan. 19 saw an intensification of the Maidan protests, which have been taking place intermittently since November. On Jan. 21, demonstrators clashed with police forces by catapulting Molotov cocktails. Police forces fired rubber bullets and smoke bombs. About 30 protesters were detained. Two-hundred people were injured and vehicles were torched, Bloomberg News reported.

In November, when the “Euromaidan” protests first began in Kiev’s Independence Square in opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to freeze plans to join a free trade agreement with the European Union, some Ukrainian-Jewish leaders had canceled events out of fear that Jews may be targeted, especially since the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian political opposition party Svaboda, which is viewed as an anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi group by various Jewish organizations, was participating in the protests. But there was little indication of anti-Semitism among protesters at the time.

Given the two recent violent attacks on Jews, there are some who suggest that “some pro-governmental forces are behind the attacks in order to then blame the nationalists and ultra-nationalist groups associated with Maidan protesters to denounce their legitimacy,” Kliger told JNS.org.

“Yet another version suggests the opposite, namely that some radical groups like neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists are behind the attack, which they then can blame on the government,” Kliger said.

Historian, politologist, and EAJC member Vyacheslav Likhachev said in an EAJC op-ed published Jan. 19 that the former is more likely than the latter.

“The large-scale civil protests known under the title ‘Euromaidan’ really do include groups of radical youths whose slogans and actions repel even the nationalistic All-Ukrainan ‘Svoboda’ Union Party,” Likhachev wrote. But he also wrote that such activists have been heavily occupied with protecting the center of the Maidan protests and preparing for confrontations with government forces. On Jan. 20, President Yanukovych agreed to form a cross-party commission to try to bring an end to the conflict, but the opposition may not participate in talks without the president, according to reports.

“Considering the general direction of what is happening on the Maidan, I believe that even the most thuggish of the protesters are not interested in Jews at the moment,” Likhachev wrote.

But since the Ukrainian government has been portraying protestors as a threat to minorities, according to Likhachev, pro-government forces may be instigating anti-Semitic incidents to then be able to blame the protesters for them.

“It is possible that the second, more cruel incident happened due to the first not having enough resonance in the media,” although “15 years of experience in monitoring hate crimes tell me that usually hate crime is just a hate crime and not an element of some complex and global political plot,” wrote Likhachev.

Josef Zisels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Vaad) of Ukraine, emphasized in an official statement translated from Russian that the anti-Semitic attacks were synchronized with the adoption of new legislation initiated by Yanukovych late last week that outlaws many forms of protests. The law bans wearing hardhats or masks, building tents or stages, and disseminating “extremist information” about the Ukrainian government.

“Journalists and public figures, including those acting on behalf of the Jewish community, rushed without any factual basis to tie the assaults with the campaign of peaceful civil protests,” Zisels said in the statement.

“Based on the fact that now the topic of anti-Semitism is being used heavily in the cynical political technology campaigns aimed at discrediting the political opposition and the public protest movement, the Jewish community must remain increasingly vigilant,” he said.

Both AJC and The National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (NCSJ) issued statements condemning the anti-Semitic attacks and asking the Ukrainian government to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

NCSJ Executive Director Mark Levin told JNS.org that “no one really knows the full truth” yet about who is responsible for the attacks, but that he is not surprised by the incidents.

“Anti-Semitism unfortunately remains an issue in Ukraine. It ebbs and flows,” Levin said.

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  • Christina Lily

    Didn’t the Jewish Bolsheviks murder millions of Ukranians in the road to bones? Didnt Jewish communism destroy 25 million Christians of Russian and Ukranian heritage between 1917 to 1990? Wouldn’t it be good if both sides could admit their wrong doing and find peace?

    • Jay

      First of all, there is no such thing as “Jewish” Boshevism and Communisim. Yes there were Jews in those political movements and there were also plenty of non-Jews. Any wrongs done by Jews to Christians pales in comparisons to the countless murders and persecutions committed by Ukranian and Russian Christians against Jewish Ukranian and Russians over the past 500 years. Such atrocities include the slaughter of more than 100,000 Jews, including women and children during the Chmielnicki Massacres in the mid-1600’s.

  • Frank Schuler

    Ukrainians killed as many Jews in Ukraine as the Germans. Germans were shocked by the barbarity of these thugs – their descendants are now on maidan. Ukrainians also killed over 20,000 Jews during the 17th century and then again during 1918-1920. Barbaric people and no surprise that they are only moved by hate, never by love or clear thinking. That’s why they can never create statehood – not in 1918 and not now – and rely on foreign subsidies and know-how.
    What a great way to make their country better! Burn, ruin, attack buildings, yell out Nazi slogans, insult Jews. Oh, and ignore the other 1/2 of the population that works and makes their country better – the south and east. That’s how you make your country better – you work. You don’t ruin it and you don’t build it on hate like maidan and other “activists” try to do. Shameful

    • Giuseppe

      To call a people, as you made: “Barbaric people and no surprise that they are only moved by hate, never by love or clear thinking”, this is near to racism. Talking about “their descendants are now on maidan” sounds vary “ineducate”.

      • Alla

        Giuseppe,
        It’s very clear to me that English is your third language because you made errors in your text.
        I was born in Odessa and lived in Ukraine until i was 28 years old. Ukrainian government denied me college education and jobs. Teachers at the last entrance exam (political geography) told me that they can’t let me in because i take a seat of someone whom government need more than me and therefore they failed me twice (two years in a raw). I was unable to get jobs in Odessa and a man in charge of employment told me that my constitutional rights were violated. He gave me a paper and told me to ask everybody who denies me employment to sign it and promised to take it to his meeting just to show that he gets requests but refuse to hire people. One gentleman told me “I am sorry my dear but you must understand that i can’t hire you, i have to follow my instructions” Which other country in the world denies jews college education and jobs???????? Ukraine and Hungary??? Frank Shuler called ukrainians barbaric and i agree, he listed real facts, true stories. If ukrainians were allowed to murder jews today they would do it with no doubt on my mind. When a basketball team came from Israel ukrainians were standing up during the game and yelled zig hail with hands stratched out. Isn’t this barbaric or what is it? In fear of attacks jews hired body quards for jewish public and sport team from Israel. What does this story tell? I don’t remember the name of israeli team but ukrainian team’s name was budivelnik. Demonstration in Cherkasi? Participants were wearing tee shirts “kill jews”.
        Destruction of jewish cemetery in Odessa and sign on a jewish monument “congratulations with holocost”, demonstration of christian community in Odessa just a few years ago with demand for a jewish blood. These are just some true facts. If this is not barbaric, than i don’t know what it is. I live in America today because i wanted my son to have college education and a job which was not available to him in hateful Odessa. My friend went to Tomsk to get college education because in Odessa he could not have one. Government which denies it’s citizens the right for education and jobs was barbaric and still is.
        building a monument to a murderer Stepan Bandera, giving his name to street and school is BARBARIC!!!!! Stepan Bandera murdered Nikolay Kuznetsov – a soviet agent who was serving in german army and a high rank oficer and helped soviet union to win the war. He was portraied in soviet movie 17 moments of spring. Bandera and his solgers murdered thousands of jewish women and children! Today his portrait is all over maidan and his flags are flying over Kiev. BARBARIANS!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Alla

      Dear Frank,
      Thank you for your wonderful comment. It made me feel so lucky. I made the right decision at the time in 1978 when i was leaving Ukraine. My father was humiliated at work, in the club. Management called a meeting of all associates and he was publicly humiliated for raising a traitor of motherland. He was a communist and because of it he had to go to more meetings and was pressured to deny his membership in communist party. He was told that will never receive his pension or will get fired for being 5 minutes late or anything else of this sort… I was told that will never see my family ever again because i was not allowed to come back. Even under those sircumstances i was happy to go to America (in my mind it was a wonderland, magic country where money grow on trees and children have a happy childhoold). Frank, people like you and me know the true nature of ukrainians and we want the world to know that even today jews are not safe there. I am surprised that those who were attacked survived. They could die and even more attaks can happen. Where is the world’s outcry, where are the United Nations, human rights commities, etc…
      Where are they? Barak Obama does not say one word.
      i would suggest to boycott ukraine, issue sanctions, etc. If barbarians see that the world cares may be they would start thinking more clearly? European union should say something in defence of jews (I doubt that this will happen).

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