KYIV — The Israeli Foreign Ministry engaged in a rare rebuke of a foreign country for Holocaust revisionism on Monday, issuing a statement condemning Ukraine for its “public glorification” of Holocaust collaborators and “antisemitic ideologists.”
The statement, which was tweeted out from the official ministry Twitter account, came in response to a Ukrainian diplomat’s demand that Jerusalem stay out of “internal issues of Ukrainian politics” following the publication of a joint statement by the Israeli and Polish ambassadors to Kyiv decrying the “glorification of those who promoted actively the ethnic cleansing” of Poles and Jews.
That letter, which was posted on Twitter earlier this month, came a day after Ukrainians marked the 111th birthday of Stepan Bandera, the wartime leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a violently anti-Semitic organization that collaborated with the Nazis.
Among Holocaust historians, the consensus is that the OUN and its military offshoot, known as the UPA, were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews and up to 100,000 Poles during the war (estimates vary). It was the second time the pair had critiqued Ukraine over the issue.
Ukraine was quick to protest, with Ukrainian Ambassador Gennady Nadolenko last Thursday demanding that Israel refrain from weighing in on the issue, calling such actions “counterproductive.”
“Individuals responsible for the murder of Jews in the Holocaust and in pogroms, as well as anti-Semitic ideologists of the Ukrainian National movement have recently been subject of public glorification in Ukraine,” the ministry said in its latest salvo in the battle over memory.
Expressing its “condemnation of these phenomena,” Jerusalem asserted that preserving Holocaust memory and fighting anti-Semitism “are not an internal matter of any country” but rather “essential obligations and responsibilities of every Israeli diplomat.”
Individuals responsible for the murder of Jews in the Holocaust and in pogroms, as well as Antisemitic ideologists of the Ukrainian National movement, have recently been subject of public glorification in #Ukraine.@IsraelMFA condemns these phenomena.
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) January 13, 2020
While Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lion has been relatively outspoken, Israel’s general approach to these issues has recently drawn criticism from Holocaust scholars and left-wing politicians who have asserted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sacrificing efforts to counter Holocaust revisionism in pursuit of closer ties with central and eastern European nations.
Despite this general reticence, Israel engaged in a protracted battle with Poland over the course of 2018-2019 after Warsaw passed a bill making it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes, a move which was seen by the local Jewish community and historians as a way of stifling debate over Polish complicity in Holocaust deaths.
That spat was temporarily ended when Netanyahu issued a a joint statement with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claiming that “that structures of the Polish Underground State supervised by the Polish Government-in-Exile created a mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people.”
The pronouncement was widely panned by historians. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, issued an unprecedented statement criticizing Netanyahu’s “grave errors and deceptions.”
However Netanyahu has praised Kyiv’s memory policies, thanking Ukraine for its “efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust,” even as his own representative there has spoken out in opposition to various government actions, such as the planned construction on the mass graves of thousands of Jews murdered by the Nazis.
Since the election of Volodymyr Zelensky last year, there have been indications that a change in policy may be in the offing and last month the administration of the Jewish comedian turned president announced that Anton Drobovych, a 33-year-old educator affiliated with a local organization dealing with Holocaust commemoration, will take over the leadership of the Institute for National Memory, the state body in charge of memory policy.
JTA contributed to this report