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In Ukraine, Herzog says Europe ‘cannot tolerate’ antisemitism in any form

Visiting Kyiv for Babi Yar massacre anniversary, president meets with Ukrainian president, PM; lauds country for passing law banning antisemitism

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog review the honor guard during a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog review the honor guard during a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday said that Europe must not tolerate any forms of antisemitism, during a visit to Ukraine to mark the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre.

“We must learn from history. The whole of humanity, and Europe in particular, cannot tolerate any form of antisemitism — not at protests, not in the erasure and denial of history, and not in the glorification of murderous figures from the past,” Herzog said in a statement to the media after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Herzog also noted the long history of Jews in Ukraine and cheered the establishment of ties between Israel and the Eastern European country 30 years ago.

“The relationship between us is based on past, present, and future. The Jewish people have a glorious past in this land: some of the greatest Jewish and Israeli characters were born and raised here — religious and spiritual leaders, statesmen, Zionist thinkers, and prominent cultural figures,” Herzog said.

Herzog was in Ukraine to mark 80 years since the Babi Yar massacre, in which over 33,000 people — most of them Jews — were killed outside Kyiv when it was occupied by the Nazis during World War II.

The ravine, also known as Babyn Yar, was the scene of mass executions until 1943.

President Isaac Herzog (left) arrives in Ukraine for an official visit, on October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)Haim Zach (GPO)

Up to 100,000 people were killed there, including Jews, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war.

“The Jewish people also have a tragic and painful history here in Ukraine. From pogroms in previous centuries to the horrific massacre at Babi Yar… In my view, this past leads us to the present: a present in which Ukraine bears the important responsibility for the memory and history of the space and culture of the Jewish community that lived here throughout the ages,” Herzog said.

He thanked Zelensky, who is Jewish, for the Ukrainian parliament’s approval of a law last month to ban antisemitism, as well as Kyiv’s decision to boycott a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the controversial United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was accused of veering into open antisemitism.

Herzog revealed that he invited Zelensky to visit Israel and that the Ukrainian president agreed in principle.

Addressing the press alongside Herzog, Zelensky said, “It is very symbolic that your first visit as president is to us, here in Ukraine. I see this as a symbol and a great honor.”

“Israel is a friend and partner of ours in everything concerning diplomacy, trade, security, politics, and humanitarian issues.”

“I am very grateful to the Israeli delegation, which has come to mark 80 years since the tragic massacre at Babi Yar. The memory of the victims is sacred for us, for every Ukrainian. With the president of Israel, we spoke about how a tragedy like the Holocaust must never happen again. I am confident that our meeting will strengthen the partnership between us,” Zelensky added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) shakes hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Herzog subsequently met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

“In their meeting, the two leaders discussed a range of issues, chiefly cooperation between Israel and Ukraine, especially on economic matters and the fight against antisemitism,” Herzog’s office said.

“President Herzog noted that Ukraine is marking thirty years of independence and that in two and a half months, Israel and Ukraine will mark thirty years of diplomatic relations, adding that Israel is looking forward to deepening relations between the two countries,” Herzog’s office said.

The trip is Herzog’s first official state visit since he took over as president in July, though he has quietly visited neighboring Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.

He was accompanied to Ukraine by Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who oversees ties with the country. MKs Moshe Arbel and Michael Malchiel, both of the Shas party, and Evgeny Sova of Yisrael Beytneu also joined the delegation.

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