KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — Anti-Semitism decreased in Ukraine in 2008 compared to previous years, according to state authorities.
“According to our statistics, the level of anti-Semitism in Ukraine in 2008 in general decreased compared with 2006-2007, and we try to do our best to counteract xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine,” Aleksandr Sagan, chairman of the Ukrainian State Committee on Nationalities and Religions, said Wednesday at Ukrinform, Ukrainian’s main state news agency, during a news conference devoted to the results of the analyses of reports on religious freedom in Ukraine in 2008.
The reports were focused on legal aspects of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, and on religious extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism.
"The Ukrainian State Committee has very good contacts with different Jewish leaders in Ukraine," Sagan said.
At the same time, he mentioned some problems with the restitution of Jewish property and xenophobia. Jewish leaders say the issue of restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Soviet regime is the gravest problem in the religious life of the community.
"It is necessary to transfer Torah scrolls [confiscated by the Soviets] to the possession of Jewish communities as quick as possible," Sagan told JTA following the news conference.
Josef Zissels, a longtime leader of the Va’ad of Ukraine, told JTA that the level of anti-Semitic publications "considerably decreased, as did anti-Semitic manifestations in Ukraine compared with the previous period.” Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich, one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, agreed.
Ukrainian Jewish leaders praised President Viktor Yushchenko for signing into law a measure providing permanent land use for religious organizations.
Some other Jewish leaders adhere to more conservative estimates, and call the situation in Ukraine concerning anti-Semitism “flexible or “stable.”
“The situation with anti-Semitism is changeable in Ukraine and in general stable,” Eduard Dolinsky, director general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, told JTA. This, he said, is in part due to the recent granting of a request from the Jewish community that anti-Semitic books and other literature be removed from many Kiev markets and kiosks.
In addition, according to Jewish organization reports, anti-Semitic graffiti and drawings were quickly removed by the Kiev city administration after the Jewish Forum provided a list of the locations of the drawings and graffiti.
The statistics, however, do point to cases of anti-Semitic manifestations in Ukraine, including vandalism in synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials. Anti-Semitic incidents do not appear to have risen in Ukraine as a result of the Gaza operation and pro-Israel demonstrations.