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Ukrainian premier tells rabbis not to worry over far right

(JTA) – Despite recent electoral gains by Ukraine’s far right, extremists will not “highjack government priorities” on encouraging Ukrainian Jewish life, Ukraine’s premier reportedly said.

In a meeting on Nov. 20, Premier Mykola Azarov told the country’s chief rabbi, Yaacov Bleich, “not to be alarmed” by the entry of the far-right Svoboda party into parliament in last month’s general election, according to a statement by the Conference of European Rabbis, an umbrella group.

Svoboda gained 10 percent of the vote, which translated into 38 out of 450 seats in parliament. Svoboda has organized demonstrations against the presence of Jews in Uman and elsewhere in Ukraine and several of its politicians have made anti-Semitic statements.

“The success of the Svoboda Party was both surprising and troubling but we need not be alarmed. We will never allow far right extremists to highjack the priorities of this government which include promoting the values of freedom and tolerance and ensuring that Jewish life continues to flourish in the Ukraine." Premier Azarov told Rabbi Bleich, according to the Jewish organization’s statement. The meeting was held ahead of the Conference of European Rabbis’ annual standing committee meeting in Kiev and was attended by 30 European rabbis.

The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who also met the Ukrainian premier, said the right to practice ritual circumcision and slaughter are “closely guarded” in Ukraine, whereas his organization has “had to fight very hard” to ensure those rights elsewhere in Europe. “We are very grateful for the friendship of Mr. Azarov and his government,” the statement read.

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