False accusations of antisemitism haunt Ukraine as Putin pushes his narrative at Holocaust Forum

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew by origin, in a traditional Jewish kippah near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Source: glavcom 

History, International

Unfortunately, the сommemoration of Holocaust victims and campaigns against contemporary antisemitism are increasingly exploited by modern politicians. Unsurprisingly, first of all by Putin and Russia. Hinting at Poland as well as Ukraine and Baltic countries as alleged Nazi and Holocaust collaborators, Russian president at the World Holocaust Forum glorified Soviet Red Army as liberators.

More disturbing, however, were not Putin’s recent statements but the fact that leading Jewish NGO, the Anti-Defamation League, claimed two months ago that Ukraine and Poland are the most antisemitic countries in Europe. Such things create good soil for Russian historical attacks. From the other side, the president of European Jewish Congress, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, who is the main organizer and donor of the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, appears to be an Russian oligarch closely affiliated to Putin. He prepared the stage and leading role for the Russian president in the World Holocaust forum so that it was easy for Putin to push his narrative on 23 January. At the same time, representatives from Poland, Ukraine and other eastern European countries were not invited to speak. The image of Poles and Ukrainians as Nazi collaborators and modern chauvinists was created.

In reality, Ukraine is the calmest country in Europe with zero acts of violence and only 11 acts of vandalism on anti-semitic grounds in 2019 (for comparison, 81 and 102 in France, according to the report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights that collects data about anti-semitic violence in Europe). Who is attempting to portray Ukraine as a country where antisemitism is rampant – and why?

Respected Anti-Defamation League and its survey on antisemitism: what’s wrong

This season’s first accusation of Ukraine’s purported antisemitism came from an unexpected place – the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an old, influential and respected Jewish NGO in the USA. It was founded in 1913 “in response to an escalating climate of antisemitism and bigotry, its timeless mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all,” the web-page of the organization says.

The ADL’s annual budget is US $75 mn, it has 485 employees. Hiring professional sociologists is not a problem for such an influential NGO. However, its well-publicized survey on anti-Semitic attitudes was designed strangely, to put it mildly. Ukrainian sociologists have been criticizing it for two months already, but few predicted that this was only the beginning of dubious accusations of antisemitism.

The survey was conducted in 100 countries worldwide. At the end of 2019, ADL shared concerns about quickly rising anti-semitic attitudes. Although Middle-East and North Africa were named the most anti-semitic, with 74% of inhabitants harboring “anti-semitic attitudes,” the second was Eastern Europe with the ratio of 34%, according to the survey. Moreover, Poland and Ukraine turned out to be the most rapidly radicalizing. The percentage of anti-semites were said to rise from 37% to 48% in Poland and from 32% to 46% in Ukraine within the last 4 years.

What hides behind these numbers? Respondents had to answer whether they agree with 11 “typical stereotypes about Jews” as defined by the ADL. The only answers available in the questionnaire, apart from “don’t recognize,” were “probably true” or “probably false.” Eleven statements that people had to asses as “probably true” or “probably false” were as follows (percentage in brackets indicate how many Ukrainians agreed)

  1. Jews are more loyal to Israel than to [this country/to the countries they live in] (47%).
  2. Jews have too much power in the business world (72%).
  3. Jews have too much power in international financial markets (68%).
  4. Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust (44%).
  5. Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind (44%).
  6. Jews have too much control over global affairs (56%).
  7. Jews have too much control over the United States government (33%).
  8. Jews think they are better than other people (46%).
  9. Jews have too much control over the global media (45%).
  10. Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars (19%).
  11. People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave (42%).

If respondent agreed with 6 or more statements he was considered as “harboring anti-Semitic attitudes.” However, from the sociological point of view, the questions are unprofessional. They are formulated in a manner where a “yes” answer doesn’t necessarily signalize a negative attitude to Jews. Respondents may answer whether they think that objectively Jews are overrepresented in politics/business/ financial market. Taking into account that еру former prime-minister, current president and many MPs are Jews in Ukraine, it’s not surprising that many Ukrainians agreed with such statements.

Regarding other statements like “Jews think they are better than other people,” respondents may interpret that usually any person or nation tends to value themselves more than others. So why shouldn’t Jews ?

We have already criticized the Anti-Defamation League a number of times for the outdated methodology they use. (…) Should I answer these questions, I would also turn to be an anti-Semite,” said Josef Zissels, dissident, human rights defender, executive co-president of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, executive vice president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine.

To measure the real level of antisemitism or any other hostility within society, other, more precise questions should be asked, like whether people would or wouldn’t accept Jews as citizens of their country. At the same time, even such questions allow some maneuvering in the interpretation and don’t necessarily mean that a person treats other ethnicities badly or hates them. Even more important for the assessment of the level of antisemitism is the real level of violence and harassment against Jews.

The difference between speculative ADL’s methodology and real sociological surveys is dramatic:

Percentage of Ukrainians who “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes” according to the ADL survey as presented on the ADL web-page. Source: ADL

Only 5% of Ukrainians say they would not be willing to accept Jews as citizens of their country. Source: Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, from the survey of the Pew Research Center (2018).

While according to ADL’s survey the percentage of Ukrainians who “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes” is the second-highest in Europe, the Pew Research Center shows that Ukrainians are the least hostile to Jews among European nations. Only 5% of Ukrainians say they would not be willing to accept Jews as citizens of their country, according to the report released on 28 March 2018 based on the results of a Pew Research Center survey.

Even more illustrative are the statistics of real acts of violence and vandalism on anti-semitic grounds in Ukraine and in Europe. There were almost 6 times fewer acts of anti-semitic violence in Ukraine than in Germany and 7 times fewer than in France.

Anti-Semitic Crimes Statistics. The blue line shows the number of recorded incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism; the orange line shows the number of victims of anti-Semitic incidents. Source: Ukrainian Jewish Encounter

Source: a report by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

“Over the last three years, not a single anti-Semitic physical attack happened in Ukraine. To compare, in Western Europe – in Germany, France, and the UK, as well as in the US – such attacks number dozens per year. In 2017 there were 24 acts of antisemitic vandalism, in 2018 – 12. The incident with the monument to Sholem Aleichem is 11thin 2019 in the entire Ukraine. It is the minimum level recorded over the past two-three decades – as long as we’ve been dealing with it. The same goes for hate speech,” said Josef Zissels, dissident, human rights defender, executive co-president of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine.

Putin’s war on history

After ADL’s survey was published and claims about anti-semitic Poland and Ukraine widely made by European media, the time was ripe for Putin’s war on history. Russia effectively exploits the narrative of Great Victory in WWII. For Western Europe, 1945 is indeed a year of victory while for Eastern Europe it was just the beginning or, as for Ukraine, the reestablishment of Soviet Occupation. Today, when Baltic countries and Ukraine try to question the Soviet historical narrative, Putin pulls out his Jewish card and claims Eastern European Countries are fascist collaborators.

Particularly illustrative was the presence of Putin at the World Holocaust Forum in Israel, on 23 January, together with leaders of Israel, Germany, France. Putin spoke several times while presidents of Ukraine and Poland, countries that suffered from Holocaust much more than Russia, where not invited to speak. During a speech at the dedication of a monument to the siege of Leningrad at the World Holocaust Forum, Putin said:

“History knows many examples of singular fortitude, heroic victimhood & massive human tragedies. But the siege of Leningrad and the Holocaust cannot be compared to anything else… In Israel, as in Russia, people are worried about attempts to deny the Holocaust, revise the results of World War II, and whitewash murderers and criminals…”

An attempt to compare Holocaust to the siege of Leningrad, Holocaust denial to the revision of the results of World War II is a dangerous manipulation that allows no third and more sophisticated historical narrative than black Nazis and their collaborators vs. white victors with the Red Army in the forefront.

Putin also said:

“Here [in Israel] and in Russia there exists an awareness of the importance of the lessons of World War II and of not letting the world forget what national egoism, discord, and connivance with any forms of chauvinism, antisemitism, and Russophobia lead to. It is our common duty to pass on this knowledge to future generations, the great-grand-children of victors, and to teach them to remember with gratitude those who earned us freedom and at the cost of their lives proved the ever-lasting value of peace and justice.”

Since 2017 at least, Putin started equating antisemitism and Russophobia. From here, there is only one step to the claim that Russophobes (i.e. Ukrainians who adopted a law on school education in Ukrainian, not in Russian) are dangerous chauvinists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu open a monument to the siege of Leningrad at the World Holocaust Forum. Source: tass.com

Yet, Putin’s last words about great-grand-children of victors are an indicator of the desperately decaying power of Russia as a remnant of the Soviet Union. In his speech, Putin also claimed that five victors in WWII, now the five main powers in the UN, are responsible for peacekeeping today. Yet, after one of the five powers was internationally recognized as responsible for the aggression against Ukraine, the desperate attempt to maintain the post-WWII political position of Russia is at least outdated.

Russian oligarch Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor the main organizer and donor of the World Holocaust Forum

The President of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and President of the European Jewish Congress, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor was the main organizer and initiator of the Forum. Viatcheslav Kantor is a Russian oligarch and has been closely affiliated with Putin for years. This explains why Putin was the main guest in the Forum, why the siege of Leningrad was commemorated along with the Holocaust, why one month before the Forum, Russia and Putin himself launched a historical attack on Poland and subsequently on Ukraine and Baltic countries, blaming them of collaboration with Nazis. This also explains why the Polish President was not allowed to speak in the Forum and, therefore, decided not to come.

“Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor publicly praises Vladimir Putin”. Source: Poland in

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conducted his planned visit to Israel. However, in the last moment, he decided to give places of Ukrainian delegation in the World Holocaust Forum to “the victims of the tragedy who survived” and not attend the event.

“We have been told that several ministers from the Israeli government have given their tickets to the survivors [of the Holocaust]. They survived this calamity and now reside in Israel, many of them of Ukrainian descent. I said, if we can, let’s give our invitations… The main thing is that we honor the memory, that we are here and can say our words of support,” the President emphasized.

After honoring the memory of Holocaust victims at the Yad Vashem memorial privately, Ukrainian president had official meetings with the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and with the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin.

Four days later, on 27 January, during his visit to the Republic of Poland, President Zelenskyy took part in the 75th commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp, together with the President of Poland Andrzej Duda. After the official meeting of the presidents, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that Ukraine had allowed exploration works, and Polish experts had conducted the first exploratory digging in the Lviv region to find and commemorate Polish victims of Ukrainian-Polish conflict during WWII. The next step is the restoration by the Polish party of the damaged grave of the soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army on the Mount Monasterz in Poland.

Andrzej Duda also said that they talked about joint action this year to strengthen ties between Ukraine and Poland, in particular, a joint commemoration of Ukrainian and Polish soldiers who fought against the Bolsheviks in 1920. Such statements indicate the increasing possibility of Ukrainian and Polish joint efforts to oppose Soviet historical narrative popularized by Putin and affiliated with him NGO’s or oligarchs.

Regarding the Anti-Defamation League which published its survey in November, it has several donors, mainly from the American financial elites who have almost no important links to Russia. Nonetheless, no explanation is available for the choice of unprofessional methods and dubious questions in the sociological survey.

Regrettably, at the time of the 75th Holocaust commemoration, the tragedy and contemporary struggle against various forms of chauvinism proved to be too politically dependent. The honorable name of the 107-year-old Anti-Defamation League or the name of the president of the European Jewish Congress, unfortunately, don’t guarantee the truth or even an attempt towards objectivity. The history of Eastern Europe and particularly Ukraine in WWII still remains underrepresented, caught by Soviet “victors.”

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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