KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — Ira Forman, the Obama administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, canceled his attendance at a landmark conference in Kiev because of the U.S. government shutdown, according to a conference organizer.
Forman, who was scheduled to be the opening speaker Tuesday at the two-day conference marking the 100th anniversary of the Beilis blood libel trial, canceled shortly before its opening with an apology to organizers of the high-profile event, JTA has learned.
“Mr. Forman has cited the shutdown,” said Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, in reference to the standoff that began when Congress missed an Oct. 1 deadline to pass a budget.
The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, is attending the conference, titled “From the Beilis Trial to Berlin and Beyond,” but will not address its 250 participants, including high-level envoys from at least 12 countries.
“It is unfortunate, but that is the way it is,” said Dolinsky, who organized the event with Oleksandr Feldman, president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee and a member of the Ukraine parliament. Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Vilkul spoke at the event.
The Beilis trial was based on an anti-Semitic blood libel that czarist Russian authorities fabricated in Kiev.
Gideon Behar, Forman’s Israeli counterpart, told the conference that “unfortunately, blood libels are still around even 100 years after the trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis, largely thanks to Iran’s efforts to propagate them.
Beilis was acquitted in 1913 of allegations that he murdered a Christian to use his blood for worship. His trial, often compared with that of Alfred Dreyfuss in France, generated intense interest by international media and served as a catalyst for Jewish emigration out of Europe, according to historians.
Beilis’ grandson, the U.S.-born Jay Beilis, also attended the conference.
Other speakers include the ambassadors to Ukraine from Germany, Israel and at least seven European states, as well as representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which is chaired by Ukraine.