Jewish groups in Ukraine trade accusations over anti-Semitism
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Jewish groups in Ukraine trade accusations over anti-Semitism

Some protest involvement of Vaad group in upcoming Yiddish festival after it purportedly downplays rising anti-Semitism fears

Illustrative: A vandalized Holocaust memorial in the Ukrainian town of Ternopil. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Illustrative: A vandalized Holocaust memorial in the Ukrainian town of Ternopil. (Screen capture: Twitter)

JTA — The World Jewish Congress is being criticized in Ukraine for partnering with a Jewish organization whose leader is accused of spreading conspiracy theories to downplay concerns about anti-Semitism.

The World Jewish Congress is co-organizing next week’s Yiddish-language conference in Ukraine with the Vaad Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine.

Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, described the Vaad Thursday as a mouthpiece for the Ukrainian government, on which he said Vaad is “politically manipulated and dependent.”

“It is not OK, WJC are working with a compromised organization that is undermining the Jewish community,” said Dolinsky, saying the Vaad is engaged in an effort to “whitewash” rising anti-Semitism in Ukraine and the glorification of Nazi collaborators.

Vaad’s executive co-president, Josef Zissels, rejected the criticism, saying his organization is Ukraine’s most independent and active Jewish group, and that it regularly condemns what it deems genuine expressions of anti-Semitism. Zissels said Dolinsky’s allegations “are lies and slander in order to diminish the authority and influence” of Vaad.

Josef Zissels is a Jewish community leader who spent nearly 10 years in a Soviet prison and is an advocate of the pro-independence Ukrainian revolution. (Courtesy Vaad of Ukrainian Jews/via JTA)

Contacted by JTA, a WJC spokesperson said that Vaad is only one of several partners involved in the Yiddish event, including the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and the University of Chernivtsi. The spokesperson’s reply did not directly address Dolinsky’s criticism of the WJC’s cooperation with Vaad.

In May, Zissels dismissed as Russian-bought propaganda a letter by more than 50 US Members of Congress who warned against Ukraine’s “glorifying of Nazi collaborators” and the “rise of this hateful ideology” in Ukraine. Subsequently, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, a regional affiliate of WJC, ended its relationship with Vaad, a former affiliate of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

That month, more than 40 Jewish communal leaders in Ukraine, including Dolinsky’s group and Ukraine’s Hillel Jewish student organization, signed a joint statement condemning the rise in anti-Semitic crimes in Ukraine. The statement declared that Zissels and Vaad “do not represent the Jews of Ukraine” and “do not express the position of the Jewish community of Ukraine.”

Far-right activists march in Lviv, Ukraine, wearing the uniform of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many ethnic Ukrainians also known as the 1st Galician. April 28, 2018. (Screen capture; YouTube)

In January, an Israeli government report on anti-Semitism singled out Ukraine as a trouble spot. An author of the report said Ukraine had more than 130 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, more than any other former Soviet country and more than all anti-Semitic incidents in all former Soviet countries combined.

But a Vaad researcher dismissed the report as flawed, adding it showed a “blatant lack of professionalism and violation of all standards of hate crimes documentation.”

A revolution in 2013 that ended the rule of a key Kremlin ally in Ukraine ushered in a wave of nationalism featuring the glorification of fighters who allied with the Nazis against Russian domination. In 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a law that criminalizes denying the “heroism” of some of these allies of Nazi Germany, which oversaw the near annihilation of the region’s Jews.

In April, hundreds attended a nationalist march in the Ukrainian city of Lviv featuring Nazi symbols that commemorated a Waffen SS unit with many local volunteers.

The Czernowitz Yiddish Language 2018 International Commemorative Conference is slated to open next week in Chernivtsi as part of the Jewish Culture Days in Bukovina festival.

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