(JTA) — More than 50 U.S. Congress members condemned Ukrainian legislation that they said “glorifies Nazi collaborators” and therefore goes further than Poland’s laws on rhetoric about the Holocaust.
The condemnation came in an open bipartisan letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan that was initiated by Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna of California and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
While noting that Poland passing a law in February that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes was “cause for concern,” the letter uses much harsher and likely precedent-setting language about developments in Ukraine that thus far have received relatively little attention in the West, observers of these processes said.
“Ukraine’s luck of flying beneath the radar has finally run out,” Dovid Katz, the founder of the Defending History website about Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe, wrote on Twitter about the letter. “Never imagined we’d see this day.”
The language on Ukraine “is brutal — and richly deserved,” he added.
The letter states that “It’s particularly troubling that much of the Nazi glorification in Ukraine is government-supported.” It noted ceremonies, gestures and legislation venerating leaders of the UPA and OUN militias, who fought alongside Nazi Germany during World War II and whose troops participated in atrocities against Jews and other victims.
Khanna’s office in a statement also noted how city authorities in Lviv allowed the celebration of the anniversary of the 14th Galician division of the Waffen SS at events this month featuring men parading in Nazi SS uniforms on the street. The statements also cited JTA’s coverage of a teacher and local politician who allegedly celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday on Facebook and took pictures of her students at the public school where she taught history performing the Nazi salute with her. She has since been fired.
“The State Department must use all available diplomatic channels to work with the Ukrainian and Polish government to combat the rise of this hateful ideology which has historically threatened peace and security in the region,” the Congress members wrote to Sullivan.
In Ukraine, a revolution in 2013 that ended the rule of a key Kremlin ally ushered in a wave of nationalism that coincided with what Israeli researchers of anti-Semitism in January called a massive increase in anti-Semitic incidents amid government inaction.
The glorification of fighters who allied with the Nazis against Russian domination increased considerably in volume after 2013. In 2015, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law that criminalizes denying the “heroism” of some of these allies of Nazi Germany, which oversaw the near annihilation of the region’s Jews.
The letter also calls on the State Department to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, a position that has remained vacant for more than a year though it was mandated by law.
“The longer this position, which has worldwide reach, sits unfilled, the more it sends the message that the U.S. will tolerate anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” the letter says.
A State Department spokeswoman earlier this month told JTA that combating anti-Semitism remains a “priority” for the Trump administration.