NEW YORK - Advocates for the Jewish community of Ukraine have expressed disappointment over the government’s lack of response to an ultra-nationalist march in Kiev where crowds broke into chants of “Jews out.”
Gershon Beloritzky, a lawyer living in Kiev who serves as legal advisor to Ukraine’s Chief Rabbinate, said that community leaders and Jewish members of parliament have made overtures to authorities on the issue, which have gone unanswered in the four days since the demonstration.
“We want a very clear declaration from the government condemning this march and to punish those that encouraged the crowd to say these things. Unfortunately, so far, we have gotten nothing,” he said. “It’s a minority of people who have these [anti-Semitic] feelings and some crazy people do crazy things, but what is important is what the state does about it.”
The march took place this past Sunday to commemorate the birthday of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with Nazi occupiers during World War II. Troops under his command were directly involved in the murder of Ukraine’s Jewish population.
In an era of intensely anti-Russian feelings in Ukraine, Bandera has become a hero to many for his resistance to Soviet rule of the country. This past summer, a Kiev street was renamed in his honor. Ultra-nationalist groups such as Svoboda and Right Sektor, which were key organizers of the march and often evoke anti-Jewish rhetoric, frequently use Bandera as a rallying symbol.
According to news reports, the march was attended by several thousand people. Ukrainian media captured a large group of participants shouting “Jews out” as a band played military-style marches and participants waved large banners of Bandera.
“We [the Jewish community of Kiev] do not feel threatened because no one has done anything physically to us, but it certainly makes us feel quite uncomfortable emotionally. We know that there are those that hate us out there, but now it is as if the government is saying, ‘OK, go ahead and hate.’ The government is not anti-Jewish and always talks nice to us, but now they have to turn their words into actions,” said Mr. Beloritzky.
Oleksandr Feldman, a Ukrainian Jewish lawmaker and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, issued a public statement soon after the incident calling for an investigation into what he termed “a provocation.”
Director for Eastern European Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, sent a letter to Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Hennadii Nadolenko, demanding action over the march.
He told Hamodia that Bandera’s heroic image in Ukraine is part of an “alternative narrative” of “Holocaust distortion” common in Eastern Europe in general. The parade that marks Bandera’s birthday has taken place for several years in Kiev. However, Dr. Zuroff said that he was not aware of any occasion that it had descended into “open” expressions of anti-Semitism.
“Ukraine has its problems now and they are looking for scapegoats, and who better to blame than the Jews?” he said. “These issues are not unique to Ukraine and they are not getting the attention they deserve — not from the EU nor from the U.S.”
Mr. Beloritzky blamed the lack of government response on the role that ultranationalist groups played in the country’s 2014 conflict with Russia.
“They look at these people as patriots and are afraid to come out too strongly against them,” he said. “Jews here are very pro-Ukraine and it is an important time for us to be united; hopefully the state will stand up to these manifestations before it is too late.”