11/24/04

Yuschenko and the Jews

Who did the Ukrainian Jews vote for?

Beats me. This nicely detailed JPost article gives context and background, but the facts don't lead to any clear conclusion. (1) A large chunk of people won't say who they voted for. (2) The young Jews, those tending more to Western Europe, might plausibly have voted for Yuschenko. (3) The older Jews, those preferring stability, might plausibly have voted for Yanukovitch. In conclusion, who knows? The most interesting point in the article is buried in the last paragraph: "Only 3,106 out of nearly 40,000 eligible Ukrainian voters in Israel cast their ballots." First of all, the turnout's low, but that's not what caught my eye. Forty thousand? That's all the Ukrainian Jews there are in Israel? There have to be more than that, don't there, if a million-plus Jews have immigrated to Israel in the past ten to fifteen years? I guess they don't care enough to register to vote in Ukraine.

Question two: is Yuschenko an anti-Semite? Beats me. The JPost article mentions the worry of some Ukrainian Jews that in the past he "has allied himself with politicians openly expressing anti-Semitic views." In another incident mentioned in the press, a leading Ukrainian newspaper, Silski Visti, published the slanderous, anti-Semitic claim that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews joined the S.S. during the German invasion of 1941. Yuschenko joined with other Ukrainian politicians opposing government efforts to shut down the newspaper.

On the other hand, Yuschenko visited a Ukrainian Jewish group before the election and promised to combat anti-Semitism. And who's to say how many anti-Semites his opponent, Yanukovitch, has associated with?

Another troublesome aspect of contemporary Ukrainian anti-Semitism is its anti-Israel roots (shared by a number of liberal politicians in Western Europe). From the article linked to above about the anti-Semitic Ukrainian newspaper:
The wave of anti-Semitic agitation in the Ukrainian media began in 2002 with the publication of defamatory articles in the magazine Personnel, published by the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management, a university-like institution offering leadership training to 35,000 students on more than 10 campuses across the country.

Although the school's board includes such respected figures as former President Leonid Kravchuk and former Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, its academic leaders have taken a strongly anti-Western political line, fostering close ties with Russia and the Islamic world. The academy's president, Georgi Schokin, has addressed three conferences in Saudi Arabia, and the American anti-Semite David Duke has appeared at three of the school's conferences in Kiev.

The Interregional Academy, which financed Silski Visti's publication of Yaremenko's article as a paid advertisement, has published his books and aggressively promoted his writings.

What this has to do with any anti-Semitism from Yuschenko himself -- again, I don't know.

I asked the opinion of a writer from the Forverts, who pointed out that opposing Jewish oligarchs (who have supported Kuchma and Yanukovitch) is not necessarily the same thing as anti-Semitism.

Update: Jonathan Edelstein, over at The Head Heeb, has followed up on this issue with his customary thoroughness. The accusations of anti-Semitism on Yuschenko's part seem more and more to be unfounded. Also worth reading is the editorial in this week's Forward, reminding us why the Ukraine is important to Jewish history yet not often remembered by name, and why Ukrainian nationalism is not something that Jews should uncritically embrace.

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