NEW YORK (Nov. 23)
In his first meeting with American Jewish leaders, newly elected Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma pledged to fight anti-Semitism in his country.
“We are not indifferent to cases of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, but the malignant term of neo-Nazism does not exist in Ukraine,” Kuchma told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations here Sunday.
“I promise that as president I shall fight against such phenomena,” he said.
The Ukrainian leader said he recognized that his country’s history “had black and bloodshed chapters” vis-a-vis the Jewish people and called for the establishment of a museum at Babi Yar, the site of one of the worst massacres of Jews during World War II.
“What was important was that the president of Ukraine was making a statement to fight anti-Scmitism and reach out to the Jews,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, chairman of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
The meeting also addressed a potential problem that had cropped up last spring, but appears to have been resolved.
Ukrainian officials had objected to some programs run by the Jewish Agency for Israel that encouraged young Jews to visit or move to Israel.
JEWISH AGENCY, UKRAINE SIGN AGREEMENT
At Sunday’s meeting, Yehiel Leket, acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, expressed his satisfaction that the issue had been resolved and thanked the government of Ukraine for its on going cooperation with the Agency’s work.
An agreement was signed last week between the Jewish Agency and the government of Ukraine which allows the Agency to facilitate aliyah, Jewish education and Hebrew-language education in Ukraine.
The agreement will make it possible for 500 youngsters to join the 991 youths already in the Na’Aleh 16 program in Israel.
They will be arriving in Israel in the next two weeks.
At the meeting, Kuchma expressed his support for the Agency’s efforts.
He also noted that Ukraine had the most rapidly growing Jewish community in the former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, who is originally from Brooklyn but now resides in Kiev and acts as chief rabbi of Ukraine, thanked the Ukrainian government for supporting Jewish life and enabling the reconstruction of the Jewish community there.
When asked after the meeting about a recent “60 Minutes” episode that suggested that Ukrainians were perceived as “genetically anti-Semitic,” Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said that Kuchma proved this was not the case.
“In terms of this president, I think the answer is given by virtue of his visit to the Holocaust Museum and by virtue of his forthright remarks” at the meeting, he said. Kuchma visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington on Monday.