Ukrainian Jewish leaders appeal to Netherlands voters to approve EU trade pact
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Ukrainian Jewish leaders appeal to Netherlands voters to approve EU trade pact

AMSTERDAM (JTA) – Ukrainian Jews appealed to the population of the Netherlands to vote in favor of a referendum over a trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.

The appeal by 19 leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish population was published last week on the website of Vaad, a large organization representing Ukrainian Jews.

In the letter, they stressed Ukrainian Jews’ support for closer ties between Kiev and the European Union, which the undersigned wrote would be strengthened if a majority of voters in the April 6 referendum indicate their approval of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine.

The referendum over the trade agreement, which removes some taxes on imports from Ukraine into the European bloc, was scheduled amid opposition to the pact in the Netherlands – the only EU country that has yet to sign off on the accord so it can go into effect.

The Dutch parliament already ratified the accord, but its approval has been put on hold following the collection of 427,000 signatures on a petition opposing it. Dutch law favors a referendum on such issues if it is demanded by at least 300,000. Opponents of the accord fear it may lead to EU membership for Ukraine and a new burden for Dutch taxpayers.

“This is not about EU membership, but only about an association enabling Ukraine to retain its European course of development and finally throw off the Russian dictate,” wrote the cosignatories, including Vaad leader Joseph Zisels and Yaakov Dov Bleich, Ukraine’s chief rabbi.

They noted the agreement was the trigger to the 2013 revolution that led to regime change in Ukraine. Then-President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign it, prompting a revolution amid accusations that he was a corrupt Kremlin stooge.

Russia responded by arming Ukrainians rebels and annexing some of Ukrainian land, citing a need to protect minorities, including Jews, from the alleged anti-Semitism and xenophobia of the revolutionaries. While some Ukrainian Jews welcomed this move, many others opposed it, calling accusations of anti-Semitism part of Russia’s propaganda war.

“Ukraine has one of Europe’s lowest levels of anti-Semitism,” wrote the cosignatories, adding Jews had “an important role” in the revolution.