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Henry M. Robert

“Ukraine is the most tolerant country for Jews...”

Experts discuss the letter of 56 US congress members calling on the Department of State to get the US to assume a leadership position in combating the rise of anti-Semitism in Ukraine
8 May, 2018 - 11:13
CONGRESSMAN RO KHANNA / Photo from the website THEHILL.COM

Recently, 56 US congress members addressed a letter to the US Department of State in which they expressed their concern about state-sponsored Holocaust distortion and denial taking place in Europe, “particularly in Poland and Ukraine.”

The Department of State should join the congress members and human rights organizations “in standing against anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and all forms of intolerance by calling for the Polish and Ukrainian governments to unequivocally reject Holocaust distortion and the honoring of Nazi collaborators and fully prosecute anti-Semitic crimes,” says the letter, which was posted on the official website of the US Congressman Ro Khanna.

Without making an effort to acquaint themselves with the current situation and historical data first, the signatories claim that Ukrainians glorify “Nazi collaborators Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, as well as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. These paramilitaries and individuals in some cases collaborated with the Nazis and bear responsibility for the murder of thousands of Jews, 70,000-100,000 Poles, and other ethnic minorities between 1941 and 1945.”

The letter also mentions a number of crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine against the background of anti-Semitism, nationalists’ torchlight marches where anti-Semitic calls are made, and the activities of “the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion,” which has been incorporated into the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ units.

The Day asked our experts to comment on this letter and the accusations it makes against Ukraine.

“THIS LETTER DISPLAYS AN IGNORANCE OF THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE LIBERATION STRUGGLE IN UKRAINE DURING WORLD WAR II”

Orest DEYCHAKIWSKY, former Policy Advisor of the US Helsinki Commission, Washington D.C.:

“Clearly, this letter displays an ignorance of the complexities of the liberation struggle in Ukraine during World War II. I highly doubt that the Congressmen who signed the letter have any knowledge whatsoever about Ukraine’s history during that time of Ukraine’s national liberation movement. Judging from my experience in the past with Congressional letters, it would not surprise me if in many cases the Congressmen who signed on didn’t even read the letter. Often a Congressional staffer makes the decision to sign, and my hunch is that in the vast majority of cases, the staffer themselves was quite ignorant of the history and failed to research it.

“The letter is targeted not only at Ukraine, but also at Poland. I do think it’s important, however, to put the letter in perspective. First of all, it is not a resolution or a bill. So it doesn’t represent the decision or will of the Congress as a whole and doesn’t mandate the State Department to do anything. The recipients of the letter in the State Department bureaucracy will probably have a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of Ukraine’s history during that time.

“I think it’s extremely important to keep this letter in perspective, however, and remember that the US Congress (i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate) on a bipartisan basis continues to strongly support an independent, democratic Ukraine through legislation, hearings, statements, and other means. In recent years, Congress has put pressure on both the Obama and Trump administrations to take stronger stances in supporting Ukraine. I don’t think this letter will change that support.

“I’m not sure letters such as these can be completely ‘prevented,’ especially as we don’t know what might stand behind any given letter. The Ukrainian Embassy, or perhaps Ukrainian organizations, might consider writing to the authors of the Congressional letter a calm, reasoned response correcting some of the misperceptions – and also pointing out Ukraine’s positive record on anti-Semitism – for example, how little of it exists in comparison to many other European countries.”

“CONGRESSMAN RO KHANNA WAS RECENTLY VILIFIED AS ‘DUPED’ INTO PROMOTING RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA”

Andrij DOBRIANSKY, Director of Communications, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA):

“Since this letter came out, I have naturally been rather overtaken by the interest in it and have had some conversations with the offices of signatories. The letter to the US Department of State originated in the office of Congressman Ro Khanna, who was recently vilified as ‘duped’ into promoting Russian propaganda. Importantly, first and foremost, this was simply a letter, not any congressional resolution with stature or even something that would have been voted on.

“Congressman Khanna then decided to publish it, making it fairly obvious that the purpose of it was for the sake of publicity and not actual intent of affecting change in the area of anti-Semitism. The signatories, for the most part, are members of what is known as the Progressive Caucus, who very rarely affect any meaningful change. Other than two exceptions, there were no signatories who are members of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, who’s 50+ members ‘share a common concern for building stronger bilateral relations between Ukraine and the United States,’ including participation in parliamentary exchanges, etc. In other words, the vast majority of Congresspersons who signed on to this letter have never visited Ukraine, do not have sizable Ukrainian immigrant representation in their districts, and therefore, for the most part, do not have the appreciable knowledge about Ukraine to make any such declaration in the letter.

“For any members of Congress who signed the letter that do have a level of organized diaspora activists in their district, they have either already been contacted or else will be shortly, and they will have to be held to account for this letter prior to an important election year for them.

“The letter cites Israel’s Ministry for Diaspora Affairs, presumably referring to their anti-Semitism report for 2017 which was published in early January 2018, ahead of January 27 – the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance. This report relied not on official Ukrainian governmental statistics or the work of established local Jewish-Ukrainian representative organizations, but rather on un-named Jewish communities and the Nativ, ‘an Israeli government agency that used to be part of the intelligence services but today deals exclusively with issues connected to aliyah, or immigration by Jews and their relatives to Israel.’

“I personally give more weight to established UKRAINIAN organizations with a proven track record for representing their community, such as the Va’ad Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine. Va’ad’s annual reports on anti-Semitism have consistently shown a markedly low figure of incidents in comparison with Ukraine’s neighboring countries. Crucially, the staggering number of anti-Semitic incidents in so-called ‘western liberal democracies’ such as Germany (1,453 incidents, including 32 violent attacks in 2017), or even the United States (1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017, including 1,015 incidents of harassment, 952 incidents of vandalism, and 19 physical assaults, as reported by the US-based Anti-Defamation League’s Audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.)

“As perhaps the best expression of Ukraine’s openness, Ukraine-Israel relations have never been closer than today, and we anticipate that Israel’s President will be visiting Ukraine this year as a demonstration of this goodwill. If these members of US congress would like to actually learn more about this supposed ‘growing’ anti-Semitism in Ukraine, or any other aspect of Ukrainian society, the doors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Rada’s Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as civil society are open to accept them in Ukraine.

“The press generated by this letter, and propagated by Russian media, I find unfortunate, because some may feel that this represents the views of the US government. In actuality, it is a minority of the minority party that have signed on to this letter, while in the US Congress, it is perhaps ONLY issues related to supporting Ukraine that members or both parties have agreed upon for the past five years.

“Although Congress will be focused on their 2018 election for the rest of the year and not pass any more legislation dealing with the budget, it is notable that in the US Senate, led by the chairs of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, a resolution in acknowledgement of the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor has already garnered several co-sponsors, and we anticipate seeing a similar resolution in the House of Representatives later this summer.

“In contrast to this ‘letter,’ these will be official resolutions voted on by members of the Senate and Congress, and this should carry far more weight than a letter with no affect on US policy towards Ukraine.

“In the meantime, the embassy, diaspora representatives, and others will be making sure that those who signed the letter understand what they signed and what the actual facts about Ukraine are.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day

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