Ukraine’s Jews are responsible for the Euromaidan revolution that ousted their country’s pro-Russian president last year, a senior rebel leader told an audience at a Russian university last week.
This is not the first time a rebel leader has said such a thing, with Alexander Zakharchenko, president of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, stating in a press conference in February that the government in Kiev is run by “miserable Jews.”
During a lecture last week titled “Contemporary Ukraine as Fascist State of a New Type” at the Nekrasov State University of Kostroma in Russia, Igor Plotnitsky, who heads the Luhansk People’s Republic – a Kremlin- backed separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine – asserted that while he is not an anti-Semite, the fact that Jews are in control of Ukraine is inescapable.
“I’d like to ask the historians…
or maybe the philologists, can’t choose, really, why was it called the ‘Euromaidan’? Where did the name come from? From the area [Euromaidan Square in Kiev]? Or perhaps from the people? Those same people who now make up the majority of leaders of what was once our Ukraine?” he asked, intimating that there is a connection between Jews and the revolution because the Russian word for Jew, “Evrei,” sounds like “Euro.”
“I have nothing against… Valtzman, Groysman, and many others.
I have nothing against the Jews as a people, as the ‘Chosen People,’ we can talk about this separately if we have the time.
But the crux of the matter is that when we call what has happened a ‘Euromaidan,’ we infer that the leaders now are representatives of the people who have been harmed the most by Nazism,” the rebel chief asserted.
Jewish Volodymyr Groysman serves as the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, while Plotnitsky’s reference to Valtzman is a nod to a common belief among those on the far Right that current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is secretly Jewish, as Valtzman is Poroshenko’s “real Jewish name” according to right-wing Russian conspiracy theories.
Such statements are not surprising given that the rebel leaders “have allowed themselves to employ fully anti-Semitic rhetoric on previous occasions,” Boruch Gorin, a senior figure in the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told The Jerusalem Post.
“It is also no secret that, on the side of the separatists, war is also being waged by real Russian Nazis. The trouble, though, is that they are often confronted by those with the same ideology but with a trident [a Ukrainian national symbol],” he accused.
“Of course it smells of anti-Semitism,” Shalom Gopin, the refugee rabbi of Luhansk, said of Plotnitsky’s remarks.
Journalists on the front lines have pointed to examples of neo-Nazi rhetoric and the participation of far-right extremists on both sides of the conflict, but for the most part anti-Semitism has been confined to the realm of propaganda, and Jewish refugees from the war zone have said that they did not feel that they were being targeted based on their religion.
Last April, rebel leaders in Donetsk distanced themselves from a flyer posted outside of their city’s synagogue demanding that Jews register themselves with the city’s new government.
Pinchas Vishedski, the city rabbi, theorized that it could be the work of “anti-Semites looking to hitch a ride on the current situation.”
Asked about rebel leaders’ relationship with the Jews under their control in February, Vishedski’s assistant rabbi Aryeh Shvartz told the Post that “they have acted well toward us.”
The Anti-Defamation League condemned Plotnitsky, stating that the politicization of anti-Semitism is increasingly visible within the context of the Ukrainian conflict.
“Opponents of the Ukrainian government ‘accuse’ Ukrainian leaders of being Jewish to try to discredit them. Plotnitsky’s wordplay implies a Jewish conspiracy behind the anti-Yanukovych revolution, and he then clearly states that Jews benefited politically,” ADL National Chairman Abraham Foxman told the Post, referring to the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
“His subsequent protest that he personally has nothing against Jews makes no difference. He used anti-Semitism for political purposes and that must be condemned,” he added.
Such statements are now part of the “official ideology” of so-called “people’s republics,” accused Vyacheslav A.
Likhachev, an anti-Semitism researcher with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.
“What is important, I think, is that there is no condemnation from Russia after the anti-Semitic statements of the leaders of pro-Russian regimes,” he said.
The Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment, explaining that Plotnitsky “is not a Russian official and has no relation to the Russian government.”
Russian media have reported on nonexistent pogroms, false quotes by Jewish leaders excoriating Kiev over anti-Semitism and similar stories on a number of occasions.
According to Shimon Briman, a Russian-language Israeli journalist, such attitudes are promulgated in the Russian media in both overt and subtle ways.
Briman noted that the photo chosen to headline a story on the termination of the head of Ukraine’s national security service on the popular Russian news site lenta.ru featured prominent Ukrainian rabbi Moshe Azman standing directly behind the counter-intelligence chief.
“This photo, even without text, influences subconsciousness of millions of readers,” he said. “From the Russian media and the pro-Russian separatists, direct hints and anti-Semitic signals to the population of Ukraine sound: ‘all your economic difficulties occur because [of the] Jews.’”