The Russian government has invested significant resources in an attempt to influence Western electorates during the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. This effort involves the accusation that Ukrainian Jews are persecuted by Nazis and antisemites who are the main driving force behind the pro-EU and anti-corruption forces that ousted President Yanukovich in February of 2014 and have now elected a new president.
Many insightful articles have examined these claims and demonstrated that this key aspect of Vladimir Putin’s ‘information war’ is being used by his ‘political technologists’ as a cynical propaganda ploy to sway public opinion. Unfortunately, some still believe it.
Churchill once said that a lie has time to get half way around the world before the truth can get out of bed. This appears to have been the case with the charge of antisemitism. In accordance with the belief that accurate information is the best answer to propaganda, a list of articles on this topic is presented below. They are taken from reputable sources in Ukraine, established media organizations, and respected international scholars.
The first section gives the view of the Ukrainian Jewish community and of organizations that monitor human rights. It is clear from these articles that Jews in Ukraine see neither the current Ukrainian government nor the groups that brought about the change of government as a danger. On the contrary, they are unanimous in the view that the biggest threat to the safety and security of Jewish people in Ukraine comes from the militant separatists backed by the Russian state.
The second section presents articles by scholars who are following events in the Donbas area and in Russia. These researchers are among many who warn of an alarming rise in chauvinistic and xenophobic attitudes in Russia. They are particularly worried by the rise of fascist groups supported by the government, and by the development of a fascist ideology in circles close to Putin.
The third section presents articles that indicate what we can expect from governing circles in Moscow, and raises broader issues in connection with Putin’s propaganda campaign.
Readers should be aware that organizations in Ukraine and outside the country monitor and report regularly on incidents of antisemitism and violations of human rights. Their findings are published and can easily be accessed on the internet. Some of the sources below are from these sites.
It is important to recognize the complete lack of disproportion in charges levelled by the Russian government. This is, no doubt, the nature of propaganda, which, as George Orwell remarked, always lies, ‘even when it is telling the truth.’ While focusing on a grain of sand, propaganda ignores the entire beach. It refers endlessly to one incident, reproduces one image, but ignores the big picture. This lack of balance is an effective trick employed by the ‘political technologists’ in Putin’s service. But the propaganda campaign conducted by Putin is particularly mendacious, and is being conducted on an unprecedented scale.
I may be useful to bear in mind some additional points.
1. The vast majority of antisemitic incidents have taken place in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, and are not the work of pro-Ukrainian or pro-unity forces.
2. There have been attempts by the special services of the Russian government to stage attacks on Jews and burn synagogues with the intention of blaming these actions on pro-Ukrainian forces. Jewish community leaders and human rights organizations have pointed out the real facts and the suspicious nature of these incidents.
3. The Jewish community, its leading spokespeople and organizations, support the government in Kyiv and have unanimously denounced President Putin’s invasion of Ukrainian territory. Kyiv also has the support of the organized Tatar community and other minorities.
4. Not a single journalist or human rights worker has been killed by forces supporting the Euromaidan movement or the new Kyiv government. This movement, the election results, and the government’s statements indicate the population’s desire for an open society, democracy, accountability, and respect for civil society. Journalists have, therefore, been encouraged to report events as thoroughly as possible.
5. By contrast, in places controlled by terrorists who support separatism in eastern Ukraine many journalists have been kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated. Western reporters and cameramen are among those killed, along with dozens of Ukrainian reporters, human rights campaigners, and civil society activists.
6. The systematic campaign to target news reporters began under President Yanukovych and intensified in the weeks of the Euromaidan revolution (November 2013-February 2014). Yanukovych kept a list of the names and photographs of journalists marked for ‘special attention.’ Some, like Tetiana Chornovol, were severely beaten, others killed. During clashes in Kyiv’s centre, the forces of Berkut deliberately shot at reporters, sometimes with lethal weapons, and sometimes with rubber bullets aimed at the eyes.
7. President Putin, as is well known, has made efforts to close down opposition groups and to criminalize any opposition. Those who speak out against his rule are arrested and imprisoned (as occurred with Pussy Riot, and the Bolotnoye group who protested his inauguration), or are fired from their jobs (as occurred with Andrei Zubov, the Moscow professor who compared Putin’s actions to those of Nazi Germany). The recently-passed ‘anti-patriot’ act allows any government critic to be tried as a ‘national traitor.’
1. Jewish commentators on the situation in Ukraine
1. ‘Open letter of Ukrainian Jews to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’
A letter by leading figures in the Ukrainian Jewish community.
‘Ukrainian Jews Slam Putin in Front-page ad in New York Times’
‘Ukrainian Jews slam Putin in full-page ad in New York Times’
2. Higgins, Andrew. ‘Among Ukraine’s Jews, the Bigger Worry Is Putin, Not Pogroms.’ New York Times, 8 April 2014.
This report features the head of the largest Jewish community centre in Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine.
The photograph above shows visitors at the Holocaust museum of the Menorah Centre in Dnipropetrovsk. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times, 9 April 2014.
3. Shefa, Sheri. ‘Ukrainian Jewish Leader says Russia is a Threat.’ Canadian Jewish News, 7 May 2014.
This report contains an interview with Josef Zissels, a long-time human rights activist and a leading spokesperson for the Jewish community in Ukraine.
4. Radice, Orlando. ‘Ukraine’s Jewish Community Ready to Fight Russian Invasion.’ Jewish Chronicle Online, 27 March 2014.
Gennady Bogolyubov and Ihor Kolomoysky, two businessmen from Dnipropetrovsk who are active in politics (Kolomoisky is the region’s governor), have been preparing the population for a possible Russian invasion. The Jewish community of Dnipropetrovsk, which includes around 50,000 people, is discussing how best to serve the military effort.
5. Fishman, David E. ‘The Real Truth about those Anti-Semitic Flyers in Donetsk. Russia Has Its Fingerprints All Over Them.’ Jewish Daily Forward, 22 April 2014.
Virtually all antisemitic incidents in Ukraine have taken place in the eastern part of the country. The influx of people, money, and arms from Russia has activated the antisemitic movement on the streets, and in seized government buildings. This represents a revival of the antisemitic Russian movement called the Black Hundreds, which was whipped up by supporters of the tsar and was used to attack ‘liberals,’ ‘democrats,’ or anyone who challenged autocratic rule. Many mercenaries and soldiers in the Donbas hold extremists views and admire the Black Hundreds. The latter produced the early-twentieth-century forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, warned of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy, and instigated pogroms.
6. Coynash, Halya. ‘Donetsk Antisemitic Leaflet: What Should not be Overlooked.’ Kharkiv Human Rights Group.
This article on the site of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group suggests that the notorious leaflet was prepared by the Russian Secret Service (FSB). Evidence for this can be found in the language of the leaflets, which mimics a Russian play by the Strugatsky brothers produced in 1991. Since there are no grounds for suspecting that the Donetsk separatist leaders are closet intellectuals, the more likely scenario is that the leaflets were prepared on instructions from Moscow. The website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group is being blocked, but another article on this issue by the same reporter can be found in the next entry.
7. Coynash, Halya. ‘In Donetsk, the Use of Anti-Semitism. Were those vile leaflets handed out this weekend a sick joke? A reverse smear campaign?’ Transitions Online, 18 April 2014.
A more detailed version of the previous article.
8. Portnikov, Vitaly. ‘The Jews and the Maidan.’ Eurozine, 26 March 2014.
One of the country’s most respected journalists argues that Ukrainian Jews (and citizens of other ethnic backgrounds) consider themselves a natural part of the new political nation.
9. Coynash, Halya. ‘Russian propaganda claims Jewish organizations supporting Maidan are bringing on ‘second Holocaust’.’ Kharkiv Human Rights Group.
The Kremlin’s propaganda has threatened the Jews with a backlash, a ‘second Holocaust,’ if they continue to support the government in Kyiv. Leading figures in Moscow are angered by the fact that Jewish leaders have denounced the way Moscow misrepresents the situation in Ukraine. This website is being blocked but the next entry reprints the same article.
10. Coynash, Halya. ‘Are Ukraine’s Pro-Maidan Jews Courting Another Holocaust? According to one Russian TV Station, they are.’ Transitions Online, 28 March 2014.
11. Lake, Eli. ‘Who’s Really Behind Ukraine’s Synagogue Attacks?’ 3 March 2014.
Jews are more worried about antisemitic attacks from Russian operatives and Yanukovych loyalists. Speaking about the recent vandalism of a synagogue in Simferopol, Zissels said, ‘This is a provocation and a way to discredit the authorities in Kyiv.’
12. Shekhovtsov, Anton. ‘Pro-Russian Network behind the Anti-Ukrainian Defamation Campaign.’ Anton Shekhovtsov’s Blog, 3 February 2014.
This article shows how the Kremlin and Yanukovych already tried to play the ‘Jewish card’ in 2004, when they orchestrated a fascist march in downtown Kyiv and then tried to link it to President Yushchenko and antisemitism. The provocation was an early example of a strategy now consistently employed to discredit the Kyiv government. The article contains photographs of the fascist march.
13. A video recording of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s address to the American Jewish Committee 14 May (in English)
The website of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine carries this broadcast (in English) by Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum. Many commentators in the West are not aware that Yatsenyuk’s family background is Jewish, as is that of several prominent figures in the Ukrainian government. This fact is being used by the separatists and Russian mercenaries in the Donbas, who frequently describe Kyiv as run by ‘Jewish Banderites’ or ‘Judeo-Banderites.’ Beatings of pro-democracy and pro-unity supporters have often been accompanied by such jibes. It is highly ironic that Putin’s propagandists accuse the Kyiv government of being antisemitic, while encouraging the use of antisemitism to whip up attacks against the same government.
14. Likhachev, Vyacheslav. ‘Anti-Semitism and the Ukrainian Political Crisis.’ Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, 11 February 2014.
The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress’s Kyiv office explains the campaign of disinformation and panic-spreading by Russian operatives.
15. Ioffe, Julia and Frank Foer. ‘Ambassador to Ukraine: The Russian Strategy Was Intended to Create Chaos. On ‘fascism’ in the capital, rabbis in the Maidan, and the best hope for the future.’ New Republic, 20 May 2014.
Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, says: ‘All this stuff about fascists and pogroms is laughable. There has not been a wave of anti-Semitic activities in Ukraine since the change in government. Don’t just believe me, listen to the Ukrainian-Jewish community. … There were rabbis on the Maidan, just like there were imams and orthodox priests of every flavor. It’s laughable that Russia has sought to play this card, and that they’ve actually made some headway with it in some places.’
16. Shore, Marci. ‘Rescuing the Yiddish Ukraine. Review of In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine.’ New York Review of Books, 5 June 2014.
Jeffrey Veidlinger’s recently published book is reviewed by Marci Shore, who describes
Natan Khazin, a Ukrainian Jew from Odesa and an ordained rabbi. He emigrated to Israel and served in the Israel Defence Forces before returning to Ukraine, this time to Kiev. Shore writes:
‘I never imagined,’ he said in a recent interview, ‘that I would put my combat knowledge to use in quiet and peaceful Kiev.’ He came to the Maidan first as an observer of the clashes between the protesters and Yanukovych’s security police. Then he became an adviser: those on the Maidan could see that Khazin had experience. Soon he was in charge of several operations. ‘I came to realize,’ he said, ‘that this was my war.’ In the first days he said nothing about the fact that he was a Jew. Then, gradually, he began to tell people. ‘I was shocked by the reaction,’ he said. ‘People called me ‘brother.’ Everyone.’
17. Adesnik, David. ‘Ukraine Election Results Discredit Kremlin Propaganda.’ Forbes, 29 May 2014.
The article summarizes lessons to be learned from the election, and contains the following two quotations:
‘A story run by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency notes that Tyagnibok and Yarosh together received fewer votes than Vadim Rabinovich, a Jewish candidate who captured a little over 2% of the ballots. In addition, Alexander Levin, president of the Jewish Community of Kiev, wrote on Facebook that Tyagnybok and Yarosh’s failure to match Rabinovich ‘showed that in Ukraine, there is no policy of-Semitism, period.’’
‘There is No ‘Civil War’ in Ukraine — Just Russian Intervention.’
2. Writers on the rise of antisemitism in Russia
For several years now Russia has proved to be one of the most fertile places in the world for neo-Nazi and antisemitic movements. A growing body of scholarship and informed journalism draws attention to this development. The articles below shed light on the trend.
1. Snyder, Timothy. ‘Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine.’ New York Review of Books, 20 March 2014
2. Fleischhauer, Jan. ‘Putin’s Not Post-Communist, he’s Post-Fascist.’ Spiegel on-line International, 2 May 2014.
3. Shekhovtsov, Anton. ‘Russian and pro-Russian Right-Wing Terrorists Spreading Fear and Hate’
4. ctype. ‘Fascism in the Crimea: Russian Fascists March and Burn Books’
This article contains stunning images of a Russian fascist march in Crimea, with Russian flags, book-burning, and fascist salutes. Among the books being burned are a history of Ukraine and Jaroslav Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk, an anti-war novel.
5. Snyder, Timothy. The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything: Fascism is Returning to the Continent it once Destroyed. New Republic, 11 May 2014.
6. Whitmore, Brian. The Kremlin, Crimea, and ‘The Good Hitler’
This blogger discusses Andranik Migranyan’s Izvestiia article denouncing Andrei Zubov, the Moscow professor who compared Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia’s Sudentenland in 1938. Migranyan’s article argued that one should distinguish between a ‘good’ Hitler (up to 1939) and a ‘bad’ Hitler (after 1939). The good Hitler was the one who ‘united Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland and Memel without a single drop of blood.’ If he had stopped there ‘he would be remembered in his country’s history as a politician of the highest order.’
7. Ioffe, Julia. Anti-Semitism is on the Rise in Russia – and the Kremlin’s TV Network is in on It. New Republic, 14 May 2014.
Russia Today aired a video that has been described as ‘eight minutes of raw Jew-hatred and unambiguous group defamation.’ The video, made by an Australian media company raps its way through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the process marshalling antisemitic stereotypes. The video is discussed as symptomatic of a deeper process in Russian society.
3. Further reading
The following articles examine the broader implications of antisemitism’s use by the Putin administration’s ‘political technologists’ (propagandists, spin doctors and military strategists). Some articles indicate the ways in which Ukrainians are countering attempts to spread antisemitism.
1. Fishman, David. E. ‘Why Vladimir Putin will keep playing Jewish Card in Ukraine Crisis. Keeping West Off Balance is an End in Itself for Kremlin.’ Jewish Daily Forward, 11 March 2014.
2. Shekhovtsov, Anton. ‘Pro-Russian Network behind the Anti-Ukrainian Defamation Campaign.’ Anton Shekhovtsov’s Blog, 3 February 2014.
3. Cohen, Josh. ‘Why Jews and Ukrainian have become Unlikely Allies: The history of Jewish-Ukrainian Relations hasn’t been a happy one, but these days the two sides are joining forces against Vladimir Putin.’ Foreign Policy, 7 March 2014.
4. Center for Urban History of East Central Europe. ‘Days of Yiddish in Lviv.’
A report on a week of festivals, viewings and workshops in Lviv.
5. Snyder, Timothy. ‘Russia Propaganda War is a Danger for Ukraine’s Jews. Despite what Putin says about antisemitism in the new Kiev government, Ukraine’s Jews are committed to independence.’ Guardian, 27 April 2014.
6. Snyder, Timothy. ‘Ukraine: The Antidote to Europe’s Fascists?’ New York Review of Books, 27 May 2014.
Snyder writes on the fantasies of the European far right and the benefits of integrating Ukraine into the EU. He comments:
‘The leaders of the European far right, helped by the recent woolly-headedness of much of the European left, are moving their peoples not back toward the nation-state (which is impossible) but toward Russian domination of Europe. Despite various disagreements, this is one point on which the European populists, fascists, and neo-Nazis agree: Putin is an admirable leader whose ideas on Europe are sound. Parties like the National Front, Britain’s UKIP, Italy’s Northern League, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, and Hungary’s Jobbik pose as nationalists while supporting the policies of a foreigner who makes no secret of his goal of dominating their lands.’
7. Goble, Paul. ‘Russia’s ‘Negative Convergence’ about More than Just Economics, Eidman Says.’ Window on Eurasia, 24 May 2014.
‘In the ideological and media spheres, Putin has revived from the Soviet past state control over most of the mass media, use of television as a means of state propaganda, and ‘ideologized’ education even as he has taken from capitalist low quality mass television culture and the use of an excessive amount of commercial advertising.
The result has been the appearance of ‘a new state ideology, propagated by the media and based on patriotism, xenophobia and homophobia, clericalism, hatred to the West, militarism, the cult of military victories and the cult of the ‘leader’ (Putin).’
8. Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter
This recently-created website contains information on Ukrainian-Jewish relations and the current situation in Ukraine.
9. In Transition: Challenges, Obstacles, and Opportunities
The website contains articles dealing with Ukraine’s democratization, its aspirations for European integration, and human rights issues.