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Across the Former Soviet Union Ukrainian Jewish Officials Want Legal Crackdown on Anti-semitism

August 25, 2005
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Jewish leaders in Ukraine are protesting what they consider authorities’ inadequate response to a recent spate of anti-Semitic propaganda. Ukrainian nationalists recently asked President Viktor Yuschenko to open criminal proceedings against “Judeo-Nazis” in Ukraine, singling out Chabad rabbis and the main work of Chabad literature, the Tanya.

In an open letter to Yuschenko, members of the Ukrainian Conservative Party and several extremist editors demanded that Jews be prevented from teaching the Tanya in Jewish schools and synagogues to stop the spread of “this misanthropic religious system.”

In a separate appeal, one of many that appeared in the media during the last few weeks, Ukrainians were urged not to buy food products that carry kosher certification.

“Every conscientious Ukrainian should once and for all give up using all foodstuffs containing kosher symbols,” read the appeal, published in a Kiev newspaper.

A number of leading Ukrainian brands of beer, soft drinks, vodka and candy — some of which are sold abroad as well — have obtained kosher certification in recent years.

The appeals, which come as Ukraine begins looking forward to parliamentary elections in spring 2006, is throwing the spotlight on the controversial activities of what is believed to be Ukraine’s largest private university.

MAUP, an acronym for the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, has gained a reputation as the largest anti-Semitic publishing house in the country.

Some 70 percent of all anti-Semitic publications that appear in Ukraine are produced by MAUP and its affiliates, according to Josef Zissels, leader of the Ukrainian Va’ad, the oldest secular Jewish umbrella group in the country.

“These are mostly publications of one organization, and other Ukrainian media don’t get involved” lately in anti-Semitic propaganda, Zissels said.

Among other things, MAUP recently published a blacklist of media and organizations distributing or supporting “Jewish racism, Judeo-Nazism and Jewish organized crime in Ukraine.”

Early this summer, MAUP hosted an anti-Semitic conference titled “Zionism as the Greatest Threat to Contemporary Civilization” co-chaired by U.S. white supremacist David Duke.

A series of anti-Semitic articles was published in recent weeks by Personnel Plus, a MAUP newspaper sold in Kiev that has a sizeable circulation. The owner and president of MAUP, Georgiy Schokin, also co-founded a new political party, the Ukrainian Conservative Party, that will campaign in next year’s parliamentary election.

Most observers agree that the recent wave of anti-Semitic propaganda has to do with the elections. But not all Jewish leaders are convinced.

“This is part of the long-term activity of anti-Semitic groups in Ukraine,” Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine umbrella organization, told JTA.

Jewish leaders expect authorities to respond strongly.

These groups “must be taken to court for the incitement of ethnic hatred,” Dolinsky said. “So far Ukrainian authorities have been doing nothing to stop it.”

Yuschenko has made a number of public statements condemning anti-Semitism since his inauguration in January, but Jewish leaders say authorities must do more to combat anti-Semitism in the media.

“During their visits abroad and in meetings with Jewish delegations in Ukraine, top Ukrainian officials always speak of their opposition to xenophobia and anti-Semitism,” said Mikhail Frenkel, a veteran Jewish journalist in Kiev and head of the Association of Jewish Media in Ukraine. “However, anti-Semitic conferences,

articles and petitions in MAUP’s publications continue to spread, and remain a big concern.”

In response, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko promised to personally protect the interests of ethnic minorities. In a July 30 Cabinet meeting, Timoshenko said she was ready to address the issue since other leading politicians have been unable to do so.

“If there is no political power which protects ethnic minorities, I personally, and those people who are united around Fatherland, will do it,” Timoshenko said referring to her political party.

Jewish leaders aren’t impressed. They say Timoshenko should long ago have expelled an anti-Semitic politician from Fatherland: Lawmaker Levko Lukyanenko was among participants in a anti-Zionist conference organized by MAUP. Lukyanenko was never rebuked by Timoshenko or the party.

But a Jewish member of Timoshenko’s bloc said he had confidence in her.

“Her words will be supported by action,” Alexander Feldman, a lawmaker and president of the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine, said in a recent interview.

He said he hoped a state-organized roundtable on protecting ethnic minorities, scheduled for late August, might help ease tensions in society.

For Jewish leaders, the anti-Semitic wave is likely to be a test for the country’s new leadership, which swept to power on the wave of public protests last year against a rigged presidential vote.

“Viktor Yuschenko is not an anti-Semite, but he is probably too tolerant to people who are,” Rabbi Ya’akov Dov Bleich, the chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, told JTA earlier this year.

Another leading Jewish authority said anti-Semitic propaganda, as well as a few physical incidents, may result from the initial stage of democratization in Ukraine triggered by last year’s popular protests.

“The anti-Semitic outbursts are a post-revolutionary scum,” said Rabbi Moshe Azman, Kiev’s chief rabbi.

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