Ukrainian Jewish leaders slam visit by top European rabbis to Crimea

(JTA) — Leaders of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community in Ukraine criticized European rabbis who attended a Kremlin-sponsored Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Crimea.

“Though it was not their intention,  these actions inevitably facilitate and legitimize the seizure and annexation of [Ukrainian] territory,” the community wrote in a July 17 statement  posted on its website in connection with the ceremony a week earlier in Sevastopol.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March following the ouster of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in a revolution that broke out over his alleged corruption and perceived allegiance to Russia.

The delegation of 16 rabbis who visited Sevastopol was made up of senior figures from Chabad, including Binyomin Jacobs, a chief rabbi of the Netherlands; David Moshe Lieberman of Antwerp; Yirmiyahu Cohen of Paris; and Rabbi Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia.

The event was organized by the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia with funding from the Russian state and at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, organizers said.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior associate of Lazar, said the Kremlin has been actively engaged in Holocaust commemoration for the past 15 years, and that Lazar and other Jews firmly support this policy.

“When anti-Semitic acts occur here, we are very vocal,” Gorin said. “But when the government demonstrates that they want to do everything so that Jews will live peacefully — with that we are prepared to cooperate.”

But the Dnepropetrovsk statement read, “Jewish leaders consenting to participate in the actions of the occupation authorities in Crimea and Kremlin political maneuvers is a big mistake that may cause significant damage to the authority of the Jewish voice internationally. Unfortunately, this is not for the first time that European Jewish leaders are deceived by Kremlin propaganda.”

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