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March 4, 2014 3:11 pm

Ukrainian Jewish Leaders Blame Russian Occupation for Synagogue Attacks

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Protests in Ukraine. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Ukrainian Jewish leaders believe Russian operatives are behind recent vandalism against community synagogues, The Daily Beast reported on Monday.

Their assertions come after Russia tightened its military grip on Ukraine’s Crimea region after a popular revolution recently saw pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych ousted and a new pro-Western government formed.

The Jewish leaders say they are more worried about anti-Semitic acts perpetrated by those invading their country than by local neo-Nazis.

At a recent press conference, Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, the president of the Jewish Federation of Ukraine, said “Things may be done by Russians dressing up as Ukrainian nationalists,” adding that it’s “the same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and created provocations.”

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The president of the Ukrainian Jewish community, known as the Vaad, Joseph Zissels, said he suspects that recent attacks were provocations from Russian forces who seek to occupy his country and “discredit the authorities in Kiev.”

Commenting on the role of neo-Nazis in the new Ukrainian government, he said, “There are those kinds of groups, but they are small, not well organized and do not play a major role.”

Rabbi Michael Kapustin, of the Tamid synagogue in Crimea which was attacked last week, told the Times of Israel that he was urging Jews around the world to vocally oppose Russia’s invasion of Crimea. He said, “We are very poor and miserable, but it’s not a question of money, it’s a question of freedom.”

Last week, vandals spray painted swastikas and “death to Jews” on the only Reform synagogue in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol.

Bleich also signed a letter along with other Ukrainian religious leaders Monday to the Russian Federation urging it to end aggression against Ukraine.

Additionally, Zissels does not have much faith in U.S. President Barack Obama’s ability to save Ukraine.

“I don’t believe Obama can do anything that will be useful or effective,” he said. “But if he could do anything I would want him to end the Russian occupation of Ukraine. But I think only Reagan among the American presidents is the one who could do that.”

Experts estimate there are between 80,000 and 350,000 Jews in the country.

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