KIEV, Ukraine (Jan. 24)
Ukrainian Jews are disappointed by the decision of Ukrainian state television to cancel its Jewish-themed weekly show. Reasons given for the show’s cancellation have been mixed. Many Jewish groups and the show’s producers said that the show’s criticism of a prominent public figure known for his anti-Semitism directly caused the show to be nixed. State television officials — and some Jewish figures as well — said the show suffered from a lack of quality.
“Mazel Tov” covered Jewish life in Ukraine and abroad, Jewish traditions, culture and issues of concern to the Jewish community. The only Jewish-themed show on Ukrainian state television, “Mazel Tov” lasted for five seasons, and was a successor to the country’s first Jewish television show, Yahad.
Vadim Rabinovich, president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, told a Jan. 18 news conference that the National Television Company of Ukraine, or NTKU, canceled the show because it was critical of Georgy Schokin. Schokin is the head of MAUP, a private Kiev university whose leaders triggered international condemnation for their repeated anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist statements.
Although company officials and others questioned the quality of the show, Rabinovich and several Jewish leaders suggested that politics motivated the decision.
Rabinovich whose own company produced the “Mazel Tov” show for the state-owned UT-1 channel, said had recommended the producers to avoid criticizing Schokin.
“Our TV company refused to accept the blackmail,” and as of Jan. 1, the agreement between the channel and his company was revoked and the show was canceled, Rabinovich said.
Rabinovich said that he was given an ultimatum by a top-level state television manager to stop criticism of Schokin to avoid the show’s cancellation.
In response to JTA’s inquiry, a state television representative said that the manager in question, Oleg Kuzan, a state television vice president, retired from the company on Nov. 1.
State television management denied Rabinovich’s accusations, saying that the cancellation of the 20-minute show was due to its low ratings — and that some other shows were canceled alongside the Jewish one.
Vitaly Dokalenko, state television president, told JTA that the cancellation of “Mazel Tov” was nothing but a part of the company’s “production process” aimed solely at improving the quality of the channel.
Moreover, Dokalenko added, no one pressed him on the “Mazel Tov” show, and state television had long consultations with the show producers on how to improve its popularity with the viewers but nothing had changed.
“Mr. Rabinovich, on behalf of Jewish community, is now demanding to bring back on air the “Mazel Tov” show in its old form, and I only insist on having a high-quality TV show about Jewish people,” Dokalenko said.
But Vladimir Orlov, director general of AITI, the company that produced “Mazel Tov,” told JTA that Dokalenko had demanded to change the entire concept of the show.
According to Orlov, “in our meetings, Mr. Dokaleko demanded that our show should cover only cultural aspects of Jewish life and not touch some political issues.”
Orlov said the producers will soon present a new concept of the show to state television shortly.
Mikhail Frenkel, the man responsible for the content of the Yahad show in 1992-2001, said the arguments of the state television managers are beyond criticism.
“UT-1 is state and not a commercial channel, and it should cover cultures of all ethnic minorities in Ukraine, including Jews,” said Frenkel, who is now the head of the Association of Jewish Media in Ukraine.
Some Jewish leaders said the cancellation of the show was an especially sensitive issue because it occurred on the eve of the parliamentary election due in March.
“It’s a shock,” said Arkady Monastyrsky, director general of the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine, a group that promotes Jewish culture. “This is some kind of a political game which I don’t understand. After all, AITI paid for the air.”
Some other leaders believe that cancellation of the show was inspired by anti-Semitism.
“I’m sure that this is anti-Semitic act of those who support MAUP,” said Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, referring to the controversial Kiev university.
But other Jewish officials disagreed with that view.
A Jewish show on state airwaves “is very important for democratic development of Ukraine but I’m not sure that the show was canceled because of MAUP,” said Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, leader of the Reform movement in Ukraine.
Josef Zissels, leader of the Ukrainian Va’ad, an umbrella organization, echoed him: “We should investigate the case and return a Jewish show on the airwaves of the national television as soon as possible.”
But Zissels remarked that the show as it existed was also of a dubious quality and did not reflect the variety of Jewish life while “covering mainly Rabinovich and his organizations.”