Ukraine will soon appoint an envoy tasked with preventing and combating anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
Last week’s announcement came days before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army and as many countries debate how to respond to increasingly frequent anti-Semitic violence across Europe.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on January 27, “is a reminder that we should make joint efforts to prevent a repeat of this tragedy,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said. “We share the concern of the international community [over] anti-Semitism and express solidarity with Jewish communities around the world.”
The appointment of an anti-Semitism chief is important especially during a time of “Russian aggression” that threatens Ukrainian achievements in building a tolerant society in which different peoples and religions can peacefully coexist, the ministry asserted.
The announcement came days after representatives of the European Jewish Congress urged the EU to create just such an office.
“Now more than ever, the European Union needs to create a position and organization specifically geared toward finding long-lasting solutions for anti-Semitism and other forms of racism,” EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said last week.
Russia has repeatedly denounced the Ukrainian government as anti-Semitic and as dominated by neo-Nazis since the overthrow of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovich in early 2013.
Ukrainian Jews have come out strongly against accusations of state anti-Semitism, with several prominent leaders actively accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating anti-Jewish provocations for propaganda purposes. While several members of extreme-right parties became part of the interim government immediately following the revolution, the far Right has since lost significant ground politically and the government has come out publicly against anti-Semitism. Some Ukrainian Jews have complained that they have become a propaganda weapon in the conflict between the two states.
Last week, the Jews of Donetsk, the center of the pro-Moscow insurgency, complained that Ukrainian media outlets had reported that separatist fighters had murdered a senior communal official.
According to a senior community leader in Dnepropetrovsk who was in touch with the putatively murdered Jew, “the community sees in this a force trying to pull [them] into the political game.”
In October, the Russian media reported that far-right nationalists affiliated with the Pravy Sektor movement had “declared war” on the Jews of Odessa and perpetrated a series of brutal street attacks. Community leaders vehemently denied the reports.
“We are against any use of anything Jewish and anti-Semitism for political purposes.
Unfortunately, as in the past, today it continues to happen in several European countries and sometimes, again, leads to violence against Jews,” Alex Selsky of the World Forum of Russian Speaking Jews said at the time.
In both cases, false quotes attributed to Jewish leaders were seemingly used to lend credence to the news stories.
Anti-Semitism has also become part of the conflict in the diplomatic sphere, with Ukraine voting against a Russian resolution condemning neo-Nazism in the United Nations last November.
The Ukrainian UN delegation attacked Russia over the resolution, accusing Moscow of actively supporting neo-Nazism at home and of supporting “nationalistic, xenophobia and chauvinistic policies” in Crimea.
“Ukrainians equally condemn Hitler and Stalin as international criminals for what they have done to us. We have always demanded that Russia should stop glorifying Stalinism and neo-Stalinism, because of their misanthropic and xenophobic nature. Until and unless the notions of Stalinism and neo-Stalinism are equally condemned along with Nazism and neo-Nazism and other forms of intolerance, Ukraine will not be able to support the draft presented by Russia,” the Ukrainians said.
The politicization of Nazism and the Holocaust continued into the New Year with opposition being raised against Putin’s presence at commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz slated to take place this week.
In December, the Czech Jewish community issued a public statement condemning Putin’s invitation to their country’s commemorations, which are being organized in collaboration with the European Jewish Congress.
Earlier this month, Russia announced that Putin will not attend a commemoration ceremony at Auschwitz, a decision motivated by political tensions with Poland, which has been a harsh critic of Moscow.