Two violent anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in Kiev over the course of a week have alarmed the Ukrainian Jewish community. On Jan. 11, several men attacked Israeli teacher of Hebrew and Jewish tradition Hillel Wertheimer after he left a synagogue at the end of Shabbat. He did not suffer serious wounds. On Jan. 18, a yeshiva student from Russia, Dov-Ber Glickman, was also attacked after he left a synagogue.
The men hit Glickman with their fists and their legs. According to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress General Council (EAJC), the men’s combat boots may have been outfitted with blades. Glickman dragged himself to a nearby ritual bath, where he was discovered and taken to a hospital. In an additional incident, yeshiva students who organized a night patrol Saturday detained a suspicious individual who, according to the students, looked like a skinhead neo-Nazi and was found to possess a detailed plan of the surrounding neighborhood.
Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) director of Russian Jewish community affairs, believes the incidents could be a “sinister sign indicating that some are trying to use anti-Semitism in political confrontation in Ukraine.”
When the Maidan protests began in November 2013 against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to freeze plans to join a free trade agreement with the European Union, there was little indication of anti-Semitism among protesters, despite the fact that ultra-nationalist Ukrainian political opposition party Svaboda was participating in the protests.
Yet historically, “in this part of the world, a political confrontation sooner or later starts to exploit the ‘Jewish question’ and to play the Jewish card,” Kliger told JNS.org. “The question is: Who is using it? There are several versions. One of them suggests that some pro-governmental forces are behind the attacks in order to then blame the nationalists and ultra-nationalist groups associated with Maidan protesters to denounce their legitimacy. Yet another version suggests the opposite, namely that some radical groups like neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists are behind the attack, which they then can blame on the government,” Kliger said.
“We at AJC strongly condemn these vicious and dangerous acts of anti-Semitism regardless of what forces are behind them. We call for full investigation and we hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. We shall closely monitor the unfolding political drama in Ukraine, especially in light of recent anti-Semitic attacks,” he added.
The National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (NCSJ) also issued a statement condemning both attacks. NCSJ Executive Director Mark Levin told JNS.org that “no one really knows the full truth” about who is responsible for the attacks.
Levin, however, he was not surprised by the incidents. “Anti-Semitism unfortunately remains an issue in Ukraine. It ebbs and flows,” he said.