Anti-Semitism on EuroMaidan: Not seen, just heard about

Overt attempts to use anti-Semitism as a propaganda weapon against the EuroMaidan movement have run up against two major hurdles: the facts and a large number of authoritative analysts, historians and human rights activists determined to prevent Ukrainians and the international community from being misled. Given a chilling warning from the most authoritative researcher on anti-Semitism in Ukraine, Viacheslav Likhachev that purported anti-Semitism could be used to silence outrage if force is used against the EuroMaidan movement, the need to set the record straight cannot be overstated.

Attempts to present all opposition to the ruling regime as “nationalist” and all nationalists as “fascists” date back to Soviet times, but they have been used since both by the Kremlin and, increasingly, by the current regime in Ukraine. The electoral gains of the rightwing VO Svoboda party in the 2012 parliamentary elections spurred the pro-presidential Party of the Regions to try to present Viktor Yanukovych and themselves as the last bastion against far-right hordes seeking control in Ukraine. 
Their first attempt, back in May 2013, to counter the Rise Ukraine! opposition rallies with the Regions Party very own “antifascist” demonstration was, admittedly, a public opinion fiasco. One of the thugs hired “to guard the antifascist demonstration”, Vadym Titushko gained notoriety and added the generic term “titushki” to a whole range of European languages, after he beat up a woman journalist and her photographer husband. 

Over recent weeks two unsolved attacks – on Jan 11 and 17 - on a Yeshiva teacher and student have been used to both shout about mounting anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and to blame rightwing radicals on Maidan. 
Likachev stresses that he is a researcher and not accustomed to hurling accusations. He points out however that the two attacks coincided with both the adoption of draconian anti-protest laws on Jan 16 and a concurrent propaganda campaign aimed at associating the EuroMaidan protests with far-right and xenophobic radical organizations. Given all of this, and considerable evidence that the authorities have recruited neo-Nazi activists from the Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts to carry out attacks on EuroMaidan activists, he is inclined to believe that the Jan 11 and 17 attacks were deliberate provocation organized by the authorities.

Missing “rampant anti-Semitism”

It is always disturbingly easy to report “surges in anti-Semitism” with the media and public in general far more inclined to believe hype than read the careful comparative analyses carried out over the last 10 years which indicate nothing of the sort. In a recent interview, the head of Vaad Ukraine (the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities), Josef Zisels points out that in 2013 there were the same number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine (27) as in 2012. This is against 50 in Russia where an increase can be detected against the previous year. “We don’t see any dramatic increase, in fact, we don’t see an increase in anti-Semitism in Ukraine at all.” Zisels has been involved in such research for 25 years. He says it shows that “Eastern Europe in general, as opposed to Western, presents a fairly low number of anti-Semitic incidents.”

Maidan: “We don’t see what we keep hearing about”

Zisels goes on to say that he has spoken twice on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] and has watched events there very closely. Both he and Likhachev say that, aside from one anti-Semitic poem read out by Diana Kamlyuk (which prompted angry objections from the audience), and one other occasion where the anti-Semitic component is in any case disputable, they have not seen any grounds for concern. Quite the contrary, in fact, and they cite any number of addresses, combined religious services, seminars and musical events which demonstrate that Jewish groups and individuals are actively involved in EuroMaidan. 
Vaad Ukraine has condemned attempts to use anti-Semitism for political gain. The same message is heard in a statement just issued by human rights organizations. 
Likhachev writes that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came out in protest throughout the country, with radical nationalist groups compromising less than 1% of the total. Those joining the protests have come from all groups in society, and attempts to present them as some kind of extremist element have no justification. 
Zisels, Likhachev and other researchers on anti-Semitism, far-right radical organizations and radical groups in Ukraine, together with the prominent historians Timothy Snyder, Yaroslav Hrytsak , Andriy Portnov, and others, have called on journalists, commentators and analysts writing about EuroMaidan to beware of misrepresenting the role of the far right in the protest movement Snyder has separately warned of the likely uses which Russia could make of propaganda aimed at presenting EuroMaidan as Nazi supporters. There is already plenty of evidence of such efforts,
Those who fabricate a purported surge in anti-Semitic attacks and present a movement of Ukrainians from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds as some kind of extremist mob have their own very dangerous motives. The facts are against them, and need to be heard. The above-mentioned appeal can be read and endorsed here.
Halya Coynash

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