(JTA) — The Jewish Agency and a chief rabbi of Ukraine have disputed claims that Kiev is ill-suited for hosting a Jewish Agency event due to rising xenophobia and civil liberties issues.
The allegations came in a letter to the Jewish Agency co-signed by 14 people, including Euro-Asian Jewish Congress President Vadim Shulman and Josef Zissels, chairman of Ukraine’s Vaad Association of Jewish Organizations.
Holding the Jewish Agency Board of Governers meeting in June in Kiev would “threaten the reputation of JAFI itself and Ukrainian Jewish community” and “provoke an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes,” read the letter obtained by JTA, which was sent last month to Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The authors wrote that “over the last three years, a great decline in the human rights situation has been recorded in Ukraine,” and that last year’s elections “are not indicative of the true choice of the Ukrainian electorate.” Gains by the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party with its anti-Semitic overtones have been an “indirect consequence” of this, they wrote.
But their claims have been disputed by Sharansky and Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief rabbi of Ukraine and president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, an organization which, along with Zissels’s Vaad, is an affiliate of European Jewish Congress.
“We believe it to be both wrong and irresponsible to politicize the upcoming meeting by relating it to issues of Ukrainian political discourse,” Bleich wrote in a statement.
Sharansky and Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chair James Tisch wrote: “It is important for the Board of Governors to demonstrate that the Jewish Agency is invested in the continued success of the Ukraine’s Jewish community.”
The agency’s statement also said the board would be hosted not by the government but by the Jewish community and that board members would meet with opposition as well as government figures and express their concern about “manifestations of anti-Semitism in the public and political spheres.”