Ukraine Jewish leaders criticize Putin in open letter


(JTA) — A highly critical open letter to Vladimir Putin by leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish communities was published on the website of Ukraine’s Vaad yesterday.

The Vaad of Ukraine was established in 1991. Based in Kiev, it is an umbrella group that says it supports “265 Jewish organizations from 94 cities of Ukraine.”

The letter, written in Russian and co-signed by 21 Jewish leaders — including the Vaad leadership, an artist, an engineer, and others — excoriated Putin’s perceived hypocrisy and asserted the signers’ support of Ukrainian sovereignty “in the name of national minorities and Ukraine’s Jewish community.”

Since Russian troops invaded Crimea, a peninsula in southeastern Ukraine, on Saturday, Putin has justified his military action by claiming that he is acting to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population.

In response to these allegations, the group spoke on behalf of a Ukrainian Jewish community that is historically “mostly Russian-speaking.”

In repeated statements from the Kremlin, Putin has asserted that Ukraine’s new government is composed of “fascists and neo-Nazis,” and he decried what he said was the anti-Semitism of Ukrainian protesters in his Tuesday press conference.

“Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which you expressed at your press conference, also does not correspond to the actual facts,” wrote the group. “Perhaps you got Ukraine confused with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.”

Calling for Putin to cease his intervention in Ukraine and his calls for pro-Russian separatism within the country, the group stated that it does not wish “to be ‘defended’ by sundering Ukraine and annexing its territory.”

Instead, the authors wrote, “we are quite capable of protecting our rights in a constructive dialogue and in cooperation with the government and civil society of a sovereign, democratic, and united Ukraine.”

Among the cosigned are Josef Zissels, chairman of Vaad Ukraine; Alexander Gaidar, leader of the Union of Ukrainian Progressive Judaism Religious Communities; Grigoriy Pickman, “B’nei B’rith Leopolis” president; and Leonid Finberg, director of the Center for the Study of History and Culture of Eastern European Jewry at Kiev Mohyla National University.

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