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Ukrainian police probe assault of Jewish pilgrim in Uman

‘This was a classic anti-Semitic incident,’ victim says; Likud MK, Hasidic leader link attack to letter sent by Israel’s virus czar asking that Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage be canceled

A screen capture from video showing a man assaulting a Hasidic Jew in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A screen capture from video showing a man assaulting a Hasidic Jew in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Ukrainian police are investigating an alleged assault by local residents of an Israeli Hasidic Jewish man during a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to a Ukrainian town.

Ukrainian police said several people beat the pilgrim during a conflict at a shop in Uman.

The pilgrim who was attacked has a residence permit in Ukraine, according to the United Jewish Community of Ukraine.

“At night I went with a friend to the store,” the Israeli man told Channel 12 news. “A group of six guys began teasing us, bothering us and stealing our purchases, until it deteriorated to blows. They bothered us because we’re Jews. This was a classic anti-Semitic incident.”

The Foreign Ministry identified him as Moshe Tanzer.

Uman is home to the grave of an important Hasidic rabbi, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the city each September to mark Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins September 18. Some had come to Ukraine before the country closed its borders last week, due to a surge in COVID-19 infections.

There have been sporadic clashes involving pilgrims and local residents in recent years.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar, a Likud party ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, linked the incident to a letter sent by coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asking that Israelis not be allowed to travel for Rosh Hashanah, due to concerns that they could spread COVID-19 when they return to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also reportedly intervened. Several days later, Ukraine announced that it would not allow foreigners into the country.

“The manifestations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine are growing since Prof. Gamzu’s letter to the Ukrainian president,” Zohar wrote on Twitter.

Zohar, who has previously lashed out at Gamzu, also said the lack of a government plan to allow pilgrims to travel to Uman “is continuing to endanger many Jews.”

The leader of the Bratzlav Hasidic sect in Israel, Nahman Benshaya, also linked the assault to Gamzu’s letter.

“Gamzu’s letter has become the bible of anti-Semitism in Ukraine,” Nahman Benshaya told Army Radio.

The comments came as Channel 12 news reported that two Bratslav Hasidim in Uman have contracted coronavirus.

Quoting the city’s mayor, the network said there was concern that they may have infected others.

Earlier, the Foreign Ministry said Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lion visited Uman, following the assault and to check in on the preparations for Rosh Hashanah. He met with local officials and representatives of police, hospitals and emergency services, as well as leaders of the city’s Bratslav community.

“We see the importance of of holding a meeting with authorities in the city of Uman to coordinate the operations of all the bodies in the city. I asked the authorities in the city to deal firmly with anti-Semitic incidents and bring Moshe Tanzer’s attackers to justice,” Lion was quoted saying in a ministry statement.

Ukraine last week announced it would seal its borders to foreigners through September to curb rising coronavirus infections, blocking Israeli and Jewish pilgrims from traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also signaled that the government would impose a ban on large gatherings in Uman itself during the Jewish new year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem, January 24, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Following Gamzu’s letter, Zelensky announced that Ukraine would “significantly limit” the entry of Jewish visitors for Rosh Hashanah at Netanyahu’s request, but did not specify the degree to which the pilgrimage would be limited.

Netanyahu’s office swiftly denied that the premier had made such a request. But many in Bratslav Hasidic sect held Netanyahu responsible, vowing they would never again support him politically.

According to Channel 12, after the Hasidim withdrew their support, Netanyahu told leading rabbis he was working to find a solution to allow them to enter Ukraine and visit Uman. The government has since formed a panel to review a possible proposal to allow some to go on the trip, though it is not clear that Kyiv will be open to it.

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