Bringing Passover to Ukraine

They want to make certain that no Jew, no matter which side of the ceasefire line they live in, goes without Passover in Ukraine. So the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is there, distributing matzos and hosting Seders.



Back in 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused his regional rival Viktor Yushchenko, who was then the pro-western president of Ukraine, of having campaigned on the basis of “anti-Russian, Zionist” slogans. Putin’s invocation of the Z word led some observers to briefly fear that Russia was reviving the spirit of Soviet antisemitism dressed up as “anti-Zionism.” But a few hours later, Putin’s office clarified that what he’d meant to say was “antisemitic,” not “Zionist.”

Was Putin’s office lying with this clarification? Was the remark a Freudian slip? We will never know for sure. Two factors, though, do stand out. Firstly, there isn’t much in Putin’s record that marks him out as an antisemite, and many Russian Jews speak positively of him, some because they feel obliged to do so, others because they genuinely believe in what they are saying. Secondly, Putin is quite happy to depict his enemies as anti-Semites if it tactically suits him to do so, which is essentially what he’s been doing in Ukraine this past fortnight.

Step back for a second, and you can see the rich historical irony at work here. One European nation with a long and bloody history of antisemitism has engaged in aggression against another European nation, also with a long and bloody history of antisemitism. When this happened almost a century ago, during the horrendous civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, pogroms wracked Ukraine; now, while there have been anti-Semitic incidents and speeches reported in Ukraine, there is certainly no state policy of antisemitism on either side, much less an event that could deservedly be called a pogrom.

At the same time, western intellectuals and activists who instinctively scorn the charge of antisemitism when it crops up in the contexts of Zionism and Israel are actually arguing that we should take Putin’s claims seriously! For example, there’s Professor Stephen Cohen of New York University, a leading nostalgist for the Soviet era, who compared Ukrainian nationalists to the Nazis in an interview with CNN. And then there’s Michael Lerner, whose Tikkun magazine and its associated “spiritual progressives network” are the closest thing we Jews have to a cult, waxing lyrically about his favorite bete noire: “The neo-cons seem all too willing to ignore the fascistic and proto-Nazi elements in the coalition that last week overthrew the democratically elected and pro-Russian government.”

No one would deny that Ukraine, in common with nearly every other European country including Russia, has too many antisemites. Its far-right parties like Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor mirror similar movements elsewhere in Europe, like Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece. It also should be mentioned that antisemitic rabble rousing has come from the pro-Moscow far left, too, like the Progressive Socialist Party that accused Jews of being behind the protests on Kiev’s Maidan. But Ukraine’s bid to free itself from Russian domination has not been driven by antisemitic ideology, as many Ukrainian Jewish leaders have themselves pointed out. “I categorically refute the statements appearing in a number of foreign media outlets of facts of massive antisemitism and xenophobia in Ukraine that do not correspond to reality!” declared Vadim Rabinovich of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress. “The whipping up of the situation around this issue is of a provocative nature and does not contribute to a calm life for the Jewish community of Ukraine.”

Why, then, the eagerness with which pro-Moscow circles in America have embraced Putin’s cynical manipulation of antisemitism? I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer to this curious question, but Michael Lerner helpfully provides an insight. The “neocons,” he says, are playing down anti-Semitism in Ukraine because their “primary goal is to protect Israel and destroy all of its potential enemies—a list that grows longer and longer as long as Israel retains its dominance over the Palestinian people and denies them fundamental human rights.”

This is insane stuff, not least because neoconservatives aren’t actually running U.S. foreign policy at the moment. Yet we need to pay attention, because, as a cursory search of the Internet will show, there are many people out there who subscribe to this nonsense. And when we do pay attention, we realize that the dots being connected here are reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting: the Jewish state and its allies in America are backing an anti-Semitic regime in Ukraine in order to continue the persecution of the Palestinians. Like I said, insane.

I would therefore advise American Jews to play close heed to any antisemitic episodes in Ukraine. (Apart from anything, Ukraine is one of the few governments in the world over which the U.S. still retains some leverage, so our efforts won’t go to waste.) At the same time, let’s recognize Putin’s invasion of Crimea and his threat to the rest of Ukraine for what it is—naked aggression in violation of the United Nations Charter that, ultimately, poses a threat to all of us, whether Jewish or not.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.


Tazpit News Agency

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea – Two weeks after the fall of the regime in the Ukraine, and as the flow of reports on Russian military advancement in the Crimea intensifies, the situation in the region continues to remain unstable and flammable.

The interim government in the Ukraine has issued new laws, many of them with a nationalistic orientation, creating unrest in the Russian speaking regions in the country. Many of these ethnic Russians in the east of the Ukraine fear the new regime and aspire to be annexed by Russia. These citizens go to sleep every night not knowing in which country they will wake up in the next morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has effectively invaded the Crimea under the pretense that he is doing so to protect the ethnic Russian there from Ukrainian nationalism, and now the world’s attention is focused on the key peninsula.

The residents of the Crimea don’t know what to expect from the government in Kiev, and these latest developments have not left the Jewish community in the Crimea untouched. As always in history, when a region experiences strife and instability the first to come under threat are the Jews there, as the lack of a central government enables the violent expressions of antisemitism. Tazpit News Agency has interviewed two of the leaders of the Jewish community in the Crimea, and has learned of their precarious state.

Dina Liebman, director of the local Hillel house in Simferopol, told Tazpit of the general deterioration of their security state. With that, she stressed that no Jewish organization has ceased to be active. “We have cancelled our larger plans due to the situation, but we have continued on with our smaller programs, like volunteering with children in dorms and working with the elderly,” said Liebman. “I haven’t sensed a change in the local population’s attitude towards us. I feel that everyone is prepared to support each other and extend help if needed, regardless of ethnicity.”

However, Anatoly Ganadin, chairman of the Jewish communities’ organization in the Crimea, has recently experienced antisemitism in Simferopol. On February 28th, the day after the fall of Yanukovych’s rule, Ganadin went to the Ner Tamid synagogue and found it defaced with antisemitic graffiti; swastikas and ”Death to the Jews” slogans sprayed across the façade.

“This is the first such incident in the past 20years,” Ganadin said. “To vandalize the synagogue you have to scale a 6.7 ft wall. Now we do not leave the windows closed so that we will not be shattered and we have asked our members not to come to religious affairs out of fear for their safety.”

Is there a threat of rising antisemitism?

“Unfortunately, antisemitism has always been a part of life here,” Liebman says. “It’s not widespread and is not a political line of any party. We are not fearful of possible upcoming pogroms. Of course, any expression of antisemitism is unpleasant and serious.”

Liebman says while Simferopol has not experienced antisemitic graffiti in the past 20 years, other cities have.

“I think such expressions of antisemitic and nationalistic sentiments are not a result of the latest developments. It’s simply a few individuals who have decided to express themselves as the country is in a stormy state,” he said.

In Crimea, Ganadin says, Jews are insulated from Ukrainian nationalists. “No one will let them in,” he said.

As the Ukraine has split into pro-Russian and anti-Russian camps, the Jewish community remains unified in it’s resolve to not get involved. “I am sure there is not fissure within the Jewish community on this issue,” says Liebman, “No head of community has voiced his opinion on the subject and has tried to influence his community in any way. We have asked our members to stay calm and to stay away from provocations.”

The state of Israel and Jewish organizations from around the world have sent support to the Jewish community in the Crimea.

“Israeli representatives in the Ukraine are offering anyone eligible to immigrate to Israel to do so in a quickened process,” Ganadin says. “Our community has received funds to install a new security system and to hire armed security personnel. We now have guards. The parliament is making an effort to maintain public order. Volunteers patrol the city.”

Which way will the Crimea go and how will its Jews be affected? Ganadin believes that the Crimea is de-facto Russian and will officially be so in a week’s time. All that is left is to hope the Jews of the Crimea will fare well during the impending storm.


Tazpit News Agency

KIEV, Ukraine – The current political crisis in Ukraine has propelled its Jewish community to request emergency training from Israeli emergency response organizations, United Hatzalah and ZAKA.

As the Ukrainian crisis developed during the past three months of anti-government protests, Ukrainian rabbis appealed for help in emergency response training. Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, the Ukrainian chief rabbi, and Rabbi Hillel Cohen of the Ukrainian Hatzalah made the request to ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav and United Hatzalah President Eli Beer. The men mobilized their organizations to work together to train the local team in only a matter of days.

United Hatzalah and ZAKA, in cooperation with the Isralife Foundation have worked together to train Jewish volunteers of the local Kiev Hatzalah. The Ukrainian participants received training in the latest emergency, rescue and search techniques in order to respond and provide aid to mass casualty emergencies should the crisis in the country escalate.

The Ukrainian participants have also been trained to provide first aid in mass casualty emergency situations, and include protocols for CPR, treating suffocation, injuries and diseases.

“We were pleased to come to the assistance of the Ukrainian community during their time of need and provide the emergency training their volunteers need to handle local emergencies in an efficient and timely manner,” said Beer. “Both ZAKA and United Hatzalah each offered unique services and perspectives on emergency response and we were happy we could work together to help our fellow Jews.”

“We are grateful to both organizations for responding so quickly and generously to help our community in this time of need. The events surrounding us require our community to be prepared with the latest training and techniques so we can respond to emergencies and help our people quickly in these dangerous times,” said Rabbis Azman and Cohen in a joint statement.

In the Ukraine, much of the Jewish population is located in the country’s capital, Kiev while other sizable communities reside in Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa. Since the early 1990s, 340,000 Ukrainian Jews have immigrated to Israel.

In related news, a Ukrainian man is being treated in Israel after suffering severe damage to his left forearm from shrapnel in Kiev’s Independence Square during riots. Referred to as Alexander S., he was the first Ukrainian to arrive to Israel for treatment following approval by Dr. Valeria Bivitzchik from Rehovot’s Kaplan Medical Center, who recently volunteered with the Ukrainian Red Cross and arranged for injured citizens to be flown to Israel for medical treatment. Alexander was brought to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot where he will undergo surgery to reconstruct the bones and repair the soft issue in his arm under the care of hospital’s surgical and orthopedic departments in the coming days.



Why are the U.S. and the EU so insistent on keeping the territorial integrity of countries like Ukraine, Iraq and even the Palestinian proposed state (based on the 1948-1967 borders), when actual conditions on the ground would be better served otherwise?

The Crimean peninsula has been part of Russia since the 18th century and all throughout the first half of the 20th century when it was offered as a gift from Russia to Ukraine by former (Ukrainian-born) leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, and became part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The change in ownership was more symbolic than materialistic due to the fact that Ukraine was a region in the Soviet Union under Russian leadership. Consequently, this figurative transformation did not bring about any meaningful metamorphosis in the daily life of a citizen living in the Crimean peninsula.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. But unlike the rest of the Ukrainian administrative regions, it was able to preserve its special Russian character by becoming the only autonomous Ukrainian republic.

According to the 2001 Ukrainian population census, 58.5 percent of the population of Crimea were ethnic Russians and 24.4 percent were ethnic Ukrainians. Consequently, Russian has been and still is the principal spoken language in Crimea. What’s more, Russia inherited – as per the breakup agreement with Ukraine – the Soviet Union’s most important warm water Black Sea seaport with its accompanying fleet of war ships in (Russian-governed) Sevastopol where its navy retains one of its principal bases.

The latest revolution in Kiev brought to power politicians whose chief common attribute was their hostility toward Russia. The re-energized Ukrainian authorities have just repealed a law giving regional rights to minority languages. This was one of their most prominent initiatives since assuming power. They have also signed a new bill banning Russian media in Ukraine. These moves must have been popular in the western part of the country. But in Crimea and in some Eastern regions it must have been seen as an indication of the further repression (of the Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens) to come.

Anxiety among Russian-speaking Ukrainians has been justifiably intensified in the past few days. Had a referendum been offered in Crimea today over whether the republic should be part of Ukraine or part of Russia, there is no doubt that the local citizens would have chosen the latter. If we believe in democracy, if we believe in facilitating the will of the people, then why are we upset when someone else’s territorial integrity is sacrificed in order to make the most out of what the affected people really want? It is their way of life, their welfare and their happiness that we are trying to downgrade in the name of territorial integrity. What is so divine about unnatural territorial integrity – an integrity that came to pass as a result of a historical accident?

Let’s think it over.

Please note, however, that I am not supporting a Russian invasion of western Ukraine. If Russia tries to control the rest of the Ukrainian territory and embrace it as part of a greater Russian empire, then it would commit the same human rights violation they are trying to prevent from occurring in Crimea.

Now a look at Iraq. The state boundaries of Iraq were established by the British empire after the First World War. There was nothing natural about those boundaries other than political considerations by the British who viewed gifting King Faisal with territory he could rule over under British guardianship. In fact, Iraqi citizens comprise three major sects; Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. They are concentrated in three contiguous regions respectively except for the capital city of Bagdad, where the different sects are more mixed although most neighborhoods are dominated by a majority of one sect or another. The fact is that whoever assumes power in Iraq, whether it is a leadership dominated by one sect or another, is trying to suppress the other sects. There is also deep hostility and mistrust between the various sects.

Iraqi minorities like the Sunnis and the Kurds could be better off if they were able to form their own state in the region where they are a significant majority, and hence govern themselves. These people know it as well. The current sectarian civil war that is taking place in Iraq is proof that forcing territorial integrity on this country, only due to a historical accident that unified it under a puppet king, is rooted in an obsession with preserving the status quo, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, regardless of whether or not it brings about violations of human rights for minorities, and regardless of whether or not it serves world peace.

The same logic applies to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The border between Israel and Jordan was established over the ceasefire line at the end of the 1948 war. It was accidental. In fact, had the war continued for one more month, Jerusalem would not have been a divided city for the 19 years that followed. It would have fallen into the hands of the Jewish state and the rest of Israel’s borders would have moved further east.

Still, in the name of “territorial integrity” the rest of the world views the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria) as Palestinian territory.

Once again, the rest of the world sticks to preserving a historic status quo regardless of whether or not it makes sense. The only correct way to draw the borders of a future Palestinian state is to ensure that it includes all major Arab population centers. Empty regions should be subject to direct negotiations between the parties involved, and areas populated by Jewish settlements contiguous to the state of Israel should be annexed by the Jewish state. Furthermore, areas populated by Arabs west of but contiguous to the 1948 ceasefire line, may be incorporated into the new Palestinian state as part of the final settlement.

Preserving territorial integrity does not, in many cases, serve justice, happiness or human rights. We have witnessed the peaceful divorce of Czechoslovakia, the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Sudan split, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. In all of these cases, the resulting independent states were better off after the uncoupling had transpired.

The EU and the U.S. should let go of the concept that territorial integrity must not be violated even when it makes no sense. Let’s not pretend that we are the Catholic pope. Let these countries get a divorce when divorce is the best option.

Dr. Avi Perry, a talk show host at Paltalk News Network, is the author of Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering in Wireless Networks and more recently, 72 Virgins, a thriller about the covert war on Islamic terror. He was vice president at NMS Communications, a Bell Laboratories company – distinguished staff member and manager, as well as a delegate of the U.S. and Lucent Technologies to the ITU—the UN International Standards body in Geneva, a professor at Northwestern University and an intelligence expert for the Israeli Government. He may be reached through his web site


The turmoil and uncertainty in Ukraine has spawned disturbing developments not involving Ukrainians nor Russians. Neo-Nazis, from Europe, have gone to Kiev. Their stated goal: save the white race.

Meanwhile, Viktor Yanokovych, the deposed president of Ukraine, speaking in Russia and in Russian, says he is still the leader of his country and that he fled, not because he was overthrown but because he was in fear for is life. The news conference, his first public appearance in days, comes as armed men surround one airport and occupy a second in Ukraine’s Crimea. Ukrainian officials claim Russia is behind the move.