Jewish communities in the Ukraine and US conducted a coordinated effort to refute Russian claims that Ukraine’s revolution unleashed a wave of anti-Semitic acts, a leading Ukrainian rabbi said.
“We’ve been working very closely with the organized Jewish community to counter the propaganda that is coming out of Russia about anti-Semitism,” Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said on Tuesday at a news conference in Kiev. “In many ways we feel we’ve won the battle, maybe not the war. There’s a lot less of that anti-Semitism propaganda coming out of Russia today,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged accusations of anti-Semitism since the eruption last year of a revolution that in February led to the ousting of former president Viktor Yanukovych, whom critics described as a corrupt Kremlin puppet. Ukrainian Jewish groups, including Bleich’s Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, became very critical of the Kremlin after Russia annexed Crimea in March from Ukraine, in a move that triggered an ongoing armed conflict between pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east and government troops.
Bleich said the Jewish communities of Ukraine acted in unison with American ones to counter Russian claims, including President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that the Crimean annexation was to protect minorities, including Jews. “Everybody was coordinated. This wasn’t done with everybody doing his own thing,” Bleich said.
Bleich noted the work of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, or UJE — an international nonprofit organization promoting inter-ethnic ties which was founded by the Canadian industrialist James Temerty.
On Tuesday, Bleich’s organization and UJE awarded the annual Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Award to Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian Jewish oligarch who is one of Ukraine’s richest people and most generous philanthropists. Last year, Temerty received the award.
From his residence in Lviv, Sheptytsky helped hide more than 150 Jews during the Holocaust and he protested the murder of Jews to the Nazi regime. But his Holocaust-era record remains controversial because he initially welcomed the Nazi occupation of Ukraine because he thought it preferable to Russian domination under the Communist regime, according to the University of Toronto’s Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine.