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Anti-Jewish Feeling Used As Weapon In Ukraine’s Latest Revolution
There is more than a whiff of times past in the latest wave of violence engulfing the Ukraine and Russia’s role in the heightening drama. Most especially, we’re all drawing parallels between the events unfolding in Crimea with Hitler’s aggressive tactics in Europe during 1938. The comparison was even aired publicly in March by Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State while her distinguished predecessor, Henry Kissinger has since warned that the Ukraine must not be used as an outpost against the east or west but “should function as a bridge between them”.
Previously, world leaders had avoided making the link although British Foreign Secretary, William Hague had described the escalating conflict as Europe’s biggest crisis of the 21st century. Indeed, for those with a basic knowledge of 20th century European history, the lines have appeared to be all too clearly marked. But there are huge differences:
Most important, Russia has used the concept of anti-Jewish hate as a stick with which to beat the Ukrainian nationalists. Pro-Russian allies have accused their opponents of being “rampantly anti-
semitic”. This is something that the anti-Russians have denied. Meanwhile, Jewish leaders across the religious-secular divide have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to withdraw troops and to stop referring to Ukrainian antisemitism.
This war of words is most definitely a hallmark of the electronic age when instant, international communication proves as deadly as a missile drone. This means that when the Reform synagogue at Simferopol was vandalised, Rabbi Misha Kapustin, head of the Reform movement in Crimea was able to email fellow Diasporan Jews for help.
“Our town, Simferopol, is occupied by the Russians,” he wrote. “Help us, save our country, save Ukraine! Ask your government for help”!
According to a Jewish Chronicle report, Rabbi Kapustin, who was trained in London, explained: “On the same day that the Russians entered Crimea, our synagogue was vandalised with Fascist graffiti. They wrote ‘death to kikes’ and drew swastikas. For the first time in my life, I asked my congregation to go home on a Friday and not return for the Saturday service — at least until we’ve significantly improved our security measures. “There were troops with machine guns only 100 metres away from the synagogue”.
While there are Jews involved in both the pro-Russian lobby and in the efforts to retain Ukrainian independence, Rabbi Kapustin is among those calling for continued Ukrainian sovereignty in the Crimea.
Meanwhile his Kiev-based colleague, Ukraine Reform Chief Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, has tried to quash communal fears by claiming the few antisemitic attacks that have so far occurred during the revolution were deliberately provoked so the Putin government could claim it was fighting antisemitism. He has insisted that most Jews, apart from those in the Crimea, feel quite safe. The history of true antisemitism in the Ukraine is long and brutal. It began during the reign of Catherine the Great who had welcomed Jews to the area as a buttress against the Turks but later had them confined to the Pale of Settlement after their success enraged their non-Jewish neighbours.
Jews fought in the Crimea War of the mid 1850s, when Russia was dragged into a fight against an Anglo-French alliance. This was the first war where photography and the electric telegraph were both employed. The technology may have been new but the ancient, unreasonable hatreds continued unabated. Many of the Jews were enforced child recruits – boys known as kantonists, who had been destined for 25 years’ army service after completing their schooling at a kanton or military academy. But while most never saw combat they also experienced a ‘valley of death’ as they were starved, beaten and tortured on the orders of Czar Nicholas 1 who thought they could be forced to convert to Christianity once they were torn asunder from their birth families.