Is Putin right about anti-Semitism in Ukraine?

The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine has accused Putin of amplifying the presence of antisemitism in the Crimea in order to fuel his own agenda. I, for one, do not doubt this for one second. Yet, does this means that Jews are actually safe, and there is no real threat of persecution?

As well all know, throughout history Jews have been subjected to abhorrent antisemitism. However this has never been more true than in a state of crisis- especially one in which Ukraine is currently in. Specialists have been implying that there might be a small backlash of anti-Jewish reprisal as a result of the escalation of conflict between the East and the West- mainly because the pro-E.U side might be discouraged from persecuting Jews. Really?

We have seen up until now small to moderate cases of violence against Jews: such as the bombing of a Shul, and inflammatory graffiti all over Kiev. However, let us not forget that all of this was the result of a revolt/revolution, from a socio-political standpoint. Therefore can we not expect an instinctive increase in xenophobia if tensions rise?

How many times has history shown that in areas and times of warfare, Jews have always to varying degrees been subjugated to frantic pogroms, forced re-locations and full out murder? Still, let us not base the reason why Jews need to remain cautious if things get out of hand in Ukraine on the broader and far-off historical past but rather on the more recent events and trends in the country itself.

In the 2010 election which was inherently rigged by Yanukovych and let to the incarceration of Yulia Tymoshenko was essentially dominated by an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Tymoshenko and Yatsenyuk. The campaign ran on the premise that both were Jews out to gain control of the nation and- in the long standing traditional anti-Semitic belief- that they were part of some sort of Jewish conspiracy to take over Ukraine.

Incidentally the Svoboda party held 10.4% of parliamentary seats by 2012. With no surprise however that the party has been proclaimed in 2013 by the World Jewish Congress as a neo-nazi, xenophobic political body. I do think that to have such a standing even in a an ‘illusionary’ parliamentary body as that of Ukraine would not constitute a certain degree of anti-Jewish feeling amid the populace- at least on a political level.

Since 1991, anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist graffiti has been part of a viscous cycle of violence across the nation. In many towns today graffiti can still be seen on the streets. Although you might think this is a minor aggravation- the truth remains that graffiti is a sign of the consensus. As an element of culture it is indicative of social trends, rather than just plain old hooliganism. Which leads me to the rather rhetorical question of: Is there antisemitism in Ukraine?

In short, yes.

The fact that Ukrainians fought for a more democratic government, and now in what seems to be for autonomy and independence from the grip of Russia leads me to the question: is the melting pot of hatred towards Jews going to subside, or will it innately become more inflamed?

Crimea-Russian SoldiersPhoto Source: Wikimedia Commons

What concerns me is that Putin has used, and is using  the issue of antisemitism for his own ends. Could it not possibly mean that the they are in such a precarious situation played off between the Ukrainians and Russians-with obvious disregard towards the community itself? It seems that amid all of this rhetoric surrounding whether there is antisemitism in Ukraine or not, people are forgetting that what matters is whether there will be if civil war breaks out.

Top Ukrainian leaders have promised the safety of Jews if any fighting does breaks out. The Russians have entered the Crimea with one of the premises that they are there to defend Jews from persecution. Thus Jews are placed almost as much as I hate to say it- as pawns for the ends of each side. If the safety of Ukrainians will be undoubtedly challenged, where does this leave the Jews?

A question that is to become that much more pertinent as only yesterday the Ukrainian government gave Crimea an ultimatum to stump the schedule referendum on joining the Russian Federation, all the while Crimea is occupied by a Russian standing army.

About the Author
Milad, a native of Jassy, Romania is a writer, historian, and the Senior Editor of The Art of Polemics magazine. He is currently working on a book on the Jassy Pogrom of 1941 while residing in Vancouver, Canada.
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