Anti-Semitism and the Ukrainian Political Crisis

At the end of January, the political crisis caused by a standoff of the government, basing its power on violence and a mechanism suited to repressions, against the active part of Ukrainian society, spilling out onto the streets, has reached its peak. After the peaceful protests were brutally dispersed on November 30, 2013, the confrontation turned violent. In the many fights with riot police that took place on December 1, 2013, on Bankovaya street, and January 19-23 on Grushevskogo street, thousands of protesters had been wounded and five were killed.

Against the backdrop of global events in which hundreds of thousands people are involved, the problems of anti-Semitism and the safety of the Jewish community naturally become relevant. Besides natural and quite justified concerns, the “Jewish topic” that interests us has not been lost in a sea of topics more important to the country and society. “Jews and Euromaidan” is a topic that doesn’t leave the pages of many media, not just Jewish ones. It is very noticeable due to reasons I shall examine somewhat later; first, it seems to me to be necessary to contextualize it properly.

Hundreds of thousands of people have gone out onto the streets of Ukrainian cities. Hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands, are national radicals, but they do not make up even 1% of the protesters and do not define the profile of the protest movement. The protest has spread all over the country: from its western regions to Kharkiv, Dniepropetrivsk, Zaporizhya, and Odesa. Nonetheless, the government is trying to play a familiar tune and to force the confrontation into the old “national extremists against stability” mold, which obviously has nothing to do with reality. By May 2013, the government had a simplistic political paradigm on how their standoff with the opposition was to be covered by the media. The opposition were to be shown as Fascists, “Bandera followers,” ruffians, and coupists. To mobilize their supporters, the government uses Soviet and post-Soviet, Russian symbols connected to the “victory against Fascism.” They’re not very convincing, but there is a segment of society for whom it works. This is the origin of the “St. George ribbons” tied on the forearms of the half-criminal, half-athlete volunteer helpers of “Berkut,” who are armed with police batons and non-lethal guns. And since their enemies are Fascists and “Benderas,” then they have to be anti-Semites, too. Besides, if you can present the opposition’s anti-Semitism to the global community convincingly enough, maybe they’ll be less harsh in criticizing the Ukrainian government for using force – after all, what else can you do to Fascists?

The problem is, neither the formal political opposition nor the broad protest movement don’t give any real grounds for accusing them on anti-Semitism. On the contrary: the Maidan stage equally hosts a praying rabbi, the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine (VAAD Ukraine) Josef Zisels with a speech, and a klezmer band singing in Yiddish. All of this not only doesn’t incite any kind of negative reaction but is supported and welcomed by everyone, including the nationalists. The protesters use their free time to listen about Ukraine’s Jewish cultural and historic heritage: these lectures are rather popular and the audience is very interested. Finally, there have already been several events in Tel-Aviv before the Embassy of Ukraine where the residents of Israel showed their support for the Ukrainian people, protested against police terror, and showed their grief for those who were killed. These rallies have garnered a wide resonance in Ukraine and the reaction from the civil protesters was overwhelmingly positive.

Among the tens of thousands of speeches made on the Euromaidan ‘yids’ were mentions in a negative context only once, in its earlier days (or, better said, nights) at an ‘open mic’ event during the performance of an amateur poet, Diana Kamliuk. One could also mention the carnivalesque character played by the Svoboda MP and well-known cultural activists Bohdan Beniuk in the specific context of the Christmas ‘vertep’, or nativity play on the stage of the Maidan, during which the folk image gained a new incarnation: the ‘Jew’, who in the end appears as a positive figure, joins the nation in resistance against the tyranny of Herod. Of course one could endlessly cite Kamliuk’s performance to discredit the Maidan, and for some people that will be enough, but for anyone who is capable of even a modicum of critical thinking this is unconvincing.

Besides, after the next escalation of the conflict, which began on Grushevskaya street on January 19, and especially after January 22, when it became certain that some of the protesters were killed and that there were thousands of wounded, it became rather ludicrous to bring up what was said at the stage somewhere in November and December. Diana Kamliuk’s poetry would have been a rather flimsy excuse to explain murders, kidnappings, and torture of Euromaidan activists.

Still, it became obvious that the situation would heat up even more several days before the Grushevsky confrontations. On January 16, the Parliament of Ukraine approved a set or repressive laws, not denying that their sole purpose was to make the protests illegal. The emphasis, on a legal level, had been that these are “anti-Fascist” laws, aimed to make the punishment for hate crime and neo-Fascism more severe.

The fact that those who created the laws did it for propaganda and not for any legal purpose is doubtless, as January 16 was the due date for the next phase of a systematic and massive West-oriented media campaign to discredit the protest movement by making it look Fascist. The first stage of the campaign took place in the late spring and early summer of 2013. It so happens that I can speak with full certainty about a purposeful political campaign and can even name the precise date for its start. This is because the campaign’s intermediaries, who were not very well aware of my political sympathies, nonetheless knew me as an authority on the radical right and xenophobia, and so offered me a job. Accusations of anti-Semitism were to play a special role in this campaign, as the West was supposed to have been massively exposed to them.

What would the point of that have been, if the government’s opponents did not do anything anti-Semitic over almost two months of protests, despite the panicked statements that started appearing almost at the same time as the Maidan itself did, coming from Jewish community representatives who were either hysterical or consciously helping the government?

If the subject of discussion wasn’t quite so serious, we could have remembered the famous quote from a Soviet comedy: “Have you had any accidents at your construction site yet? No? That means you’ll get some.”
The first incident took place on the evening of January 11, right after the end of the Sabbath (that is, after the sun set on Saturday). After the Saturday evening prayer, outdoor surveillance cameras caught sight of two pairs of young men who were waiting for something on opposite sides of the synagogue. Unfortunately, it is impossible to see their faces, which were covered by scarves or flu masks, and additionally concealed by lowered hoods. Excluding this peculiarity, nothing in their clothing gave away any ideological predilection or affiliation with any organization. It was just normal clothing popular among youth: half-sports, half casual, suitable for the weather.

Hillel Wertheimer, a 26-year-old Israeli teacher of Hebrew and Jewish Tradition, left the synagogue at approximately 6 PM. The teacher was easily distinguishable as an Orthodox Jews. The youths merged into one group and followed Wertheimer at a distance until his home on Yurkovskaya street. Wertheimer entered the lobby of his apartment building at about 6:10; the youths ran in after him and attacked. A neighbor of the teacher’s heard screams and went to check what happened. Her presence scared off the attackers, who broke off and ran. Luckily, they didn’t have time to inflict any serious wounds.

The victim then called the police. Criminal proceedings were opened, and preliminary assessment qualified the case according to Article 125, Part 1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (“intentional infliction of light bodily injury”).
The attack did not garner a wide resonance. There were isolated reports in foreign Jewish media, but the Ukrainian news made no note of the incident.

Less than a week later, a more serious incident took place.
On Friday, January 17, at about 11:15 PM, after the traditional welcoming of the Sabbath (which takes place on Friday night according to Jewish tradition) was long over and most of the worshippers had already left the synagogue, a 33-year-old Yeshiva student from Russia, Dov-Ber Glickman finally decided to leave himself. He turned left from the building and walked down Schekavitskaya street towards Voloshskaya street. But some 50 meters before the crossroads, he saw that three suspicious young men were standing on the street corner. They were wearing combat boots and their faces were concealed by hoods. Naturally, everyone in the community knew about the week-old incident with the teacher and were alert. Dov-Ber Glickman decided to avoid them and tried to escape though a nearby courtyard. He walked onto Voloshskaya street somewhat further than its crossroads with Schekavitskaya street. But the criminals who were waiting for a victim saw his maneuver and walked after him quickly. Upon hearing that his pursuers broke into a run, the student turned onto Vvedenskaya street, but they caught up with him several meters later. One of the pursuers walked out into the traffic area of the Voloshskaya-Vvedenskaya crossroads and watched the situation, and two more silently attacked the victim. They hit him both with their fists and with their legs, and their combat boots seem to have been outfitted with blades that left deep gashes. The attack took place near an apartment building, and the victim had been able to keep his footing and remain standing. Local residents awoken by the student’s screams tumbled out onto their balconies, somebody shouted from their window. Then the attackers broke off, ran towards their accomplice who had been keeping watch, and all three of them got into a car standing at the crossroads with its headlights on.

Dov-Ber Glickman realized that he was wounded and made it back to the synagogue, where he asked the guard to call an ambulance. Ample traces of blood remained in the synagogue mikveh room (a bathing facility used for ritual purification). First aid was given to Glickman by the ambulance medical workers, who had arrived promptly. Glickman had then been taken to a hospital, where the doctors closed three punctured and incised wounds.
It is important to note that neither the Schekavitskaya-Voloshskaya crosrroads nor the Voloshskaya-Vvedenskaya crossroads have no outdoor surveillance. The criminals were obviously intentionally waiting at a distance from the synagogue with its cameras. It is possible that they have taken into account the mistakes they had made during the first attack.

So far there is no information on criminal proceedings being opened. On Saturday, January 18, two men in police uniforms visited the victim at the hospital and took a statement from him. However, due to Jewish religious prohibitions, the Yeshiva student had been unable to sign the protocol written according to his statement.
One more episode that looks rather sinister in light of other events has also so far gone unmentioned by the media. After the attack at night, the Yeshiva students organized something like a patrol on Saturday. The improvised patrol walked the streets surrounding the synagogue, accompanying worshippers to and from prayer meetings. After the day’s prayer they noticed a suspicious young man who had, according to one of the worshippers, been following him. The young man looked about 19 and, according to the students, looked like a skinhead: he had a short haircut, high combat boots, and a short jacket. The three activists from the improvised patrol detained the young man. He did not resist and, according to the students, was very sure of himself, even impudent. The youth had a notebook in which he had been sketching a detailed plan of the blocks near the synagogues with some kind of arrows. The activists believe the young man to be a “scout” (youth group slang), who had been writing down how the worshippers returned home from the synagogue.

The improvised patrol handed the detained youth over to the police. The young man continued his impudent behavior even with them around. After an identity check, the young man was released from police custody. The community is complaining that the police aren’t too zealous in their investigation.

Right after these incidents, the Euromaidan officially proposed to guard the synagogues of Kyiv. The protesters understood extremely well that they’ve been posed to take the blame by the state propaganda mechanism. Naturally, they were right.

Neo-Nazi gangs actually tracking down Jews and attacking them with edged weapons are no crazy poet but a real threat to the Jewish community, important enough to make the news even against the backdrop of street fighting.
Let’s take a look at the timeline again. The first attack takes place before the laws were approved and does not garner a wide resonance (that our hypothetical instigators might have been counting on – but the community decides to keep quiet). On January 16, the “anti-Fascist” repressive laws are put into place and the campaign of information and propaganda begins. A short time earlier, a court had prohibited all mass rallies in the Center of Kyiv up until march 8. The Euromaidan had, accordingly, been getting ready for a forced dispersal – so it was a time when even the most radical of the protesters had more important things to do than attack Jews. But it is at this very time that yet another attack happens – a far more cruel one, which is covered widely by the media.
I am an academic. In contrast to political technologists and provocateurs, I’m not accustomed to throwing accusations around, and without enough confirmed facts I cannot say for sure who is behind the anti-Semitic attacks of the last two weeks in Kyiv. However, there is a certain coincidence of related information – beginning with the complete synchronization of the attacks, the adoption of the repressive new laws and the start of a new stage of the propaganda campaign, and ending with the fact that there is now a good deal of proof that the authorities have recruited neo-Nazi activists (from the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions) to carry out physical attacks on activists of the protest movement. Analyzing this information, I am inclined towards the explanation that these attacks were provocations organized by the authorities.

Almost immediately many media started to univocally equate the attacks with the campaign of civil protests. This equivocation had absolutely no basis in facts – as if the protesters, each one a Fascist and anti-Semite, would have waited two months until the corresponding laws were adopted to start attacking Jews, especially when the Maidan had been preparing for an assault that could have come at any time! – but it had been nonetheless rather opinionated. Unfortunately, some Jewish organizations joined this media campaign – both existing ones and ones made up by political technologists explicitly for this purpose. Since the canards had been explicitly financed, their voice is well-heard in Israel, the USA, and Europe.

I’d like to examine one case in detail, as analyzing it shows how the propaganda campaign works and how easily the media fall for absolutely absurd canards – in part due to false yet deeply rooted stereotypes, in part because the information planted in disinformation campaigns isn’t critically analyzed and checked.

As soon as the media published news about the attacks in Kyiv, panicked calls to “mobilize” appeared on the Internet, written by a “Jewish Fighting Units” organization that appeared out of nowhere. The texts of the “fighters” read like the writings of madmen: “Our units need medicine, food, other essential items! We need to build shelters in case the situation destabilizes beyond repair.” Then there was more: the “fighting unit” appealed to an absolutely unknown incident of “a whole family of Jews being murdered due to ethnic hatred” and produced a panicked call to Israel to evacuate the Jewish community of Kyiv. This call was cited by almost all Jewish media, including media in Israel, and not only – for example, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” sent a special reporter to Kyiv to find out whether it was true that Ukrainian Jews were afraid to go out of their houses in fear of “Bandera followers.” What a find that would have been for Russian propaganda!

I seem to have been the first one to decide to check who these “Jewish Fighting Units” were and where they had come from. It was fairly easy to find out that the man calling himself “Meir Landau” and who spread the panicked calls for help in the face of the “Bandera pogrom threat to Ukrainian Jewry” on behalf of the “Jewish Fighting Units” turned out to be an activist of a pro-Russian group of Cossaks, Nikolai Tselytsky, born in 1976 and currently living in a small town called Malynivka (Chuguev district, Kharkiv oblast’).

It is difficult to say whether he actually has any relation to the Jews. According to Tselytsky’s own statement, Landau is his great-grandmother’s surname, but whether this is true or not it is currently impossible to check.
The most interesting thing about this imaginative man with an interesting fate is that most of his creative life had been somehow connected with pro-Russian Cossacks. According to his own words, he had been a member of the Pridnestrov’ye Cossack Guard in 1992-1993 (which is, naturally, hard to believe considering his age). From 1993 (that is, since he was 17) until 2003, our hero worked at the Department of Planning, Analytics, and Summary Book-Keeping of the Cossack Union of Russia, was part of the Kharkiv Fraternity of Russian Cossacks (from 2003 to 2012). Since 2009 he has been the proud Director General of the General A. P. Kutepov International Charity Foundation (Kharkiv). Besides all this, Tselytsky has also talked about himself many times and has called himself a variety of other thing. Among other interesting ideas, he says that he is a reserve officer, a Senior Lieutenant, who formerly worked in the police and “fought against extremism in Ukraine.”

But Tselytsky is known to many people of Kharkiv oblast’, Chuguyev city, as “Kolya Ganja” (that is, Kolya “Marijuana,” though it seems to be his real name). It is also said that he had not only been a Cossack, but an activist of Ukrainian patriotic and nationalistic organizations, from “Prosvita” to far more radical nationalistic political groups. Only a few years ago, Nikolai Ganja in his guise as “Colonel of the Cossack Military” had called himself “Chief of the General Staff of the Russian United National Alliance (RONA).” This nice little organization called itself (in a document signed by Ganja) “the only heir to the Russian National-Soocialist Party and the Russian Liberation People’s Army, the Armed Forces of the Liberation Committee of Russia’s Peoples.” A surprised reader might ask which army was that, so we quote on: “The RONA begins its history from the Tambov peasant uprising of 1920-1921, headed by officers of the Volunteer Army Konstantin Voskoboynik and Antonov. The uprising lost, but the Russian National-Socialist party had nonetheless been founded, and it was the base for the Russian Liberation Movement of 1941-1945. In June 1941, SS Gruppen-Führer Bronislav Kaminski and RNSP Chairman Konstantin Voskoboynik founded the first volunteer groups for fighting the Bolsheviks for the future New, Free Russia. They helped found the Lokot republic as the first Russian state since the Russian army left Crimea. That had been the rebirth of the Russian Army under the name of the Russian Liberation People’s Army (RONA), which had been included together with the Russian Liberation Army, which appeared in 1943, and the Cossack divisions of Wehrmacht and SS to the Armed Forces of the Committee for the Liberation of Russia’s Peoples.” The renewed RONA was founded by the General A. P. Kutepov International Charity Foundation, of heading which Ganja/Tselitskiy/Landau is proud in all of his guises, and the Martyr metropolitan Vladimir of Kyiv and Gallich Brotherhood, whose Kharkiv regional branch is also headed by our hero.

So under his real name Nikolai Ganja invents organizations that are proud heirs of the Wehrmacht and Schutzstaffeln. And under his pen name, Meir Landau, he invented an organization that is an alleged heir to the Polish Jewish Fighting Organization, calls Bandera followers “collaborators,” and sings praises to the “Berkut” and their acts of heroism.

This all would have been very funny, it this man’s statements were not reprinted with complete seriousness as characteristic of the situation with anti-Semitism in Ukraine, weren’t cited and commented on by global media.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that the informational campaign to discredit the protest movement and its “anti-Fascist” slogans does not limit itself to the ravings of madmen and provocateurs.

On February 3, a panel titled “The Democratic Process and the Threat of Radicalism in Ukraine” was held in Kyiv, in the building of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Among the participants of this event were leading anti-Fascists of post-Soviet countries, including the Kremlin political technologists responsible for the “World Without Nazism” project, Valeriy Engel and Boris Shpigel, as well as leaders of European Jewish organizations. It is quite obvious which of these participants embodied “the threat of radicalism” and who is implementing (with police batons and rubber bullets) “democratic processes,” especially since Engel had spoken in the Russian Duma a mere day earlier with his initiative of making “the rehabilitation of Fascism” a criminal offense not just in Russia but beyond its borders as well. To lend the event more weight, two former presidents, Leonid Kravchuk and Victor Yuschenko, were invited. The still-acting president of Ukraine Victor Yanukovich also met with the panel participants, becoming a live testament to the level at which the “anti-Fascist” campaign is developed an implemented. Naturally, he said a resounding “No!” to “extremism, radicalism, and inciting hatred in society.” The organizators of the event were praised highly, if somewhat crudely, by the man who is formally supposed to guarantee that the Constitution of Ukraine is not broken. He said: “I thank you all for uniting into this organization and doing great work, which I think unites people into a community of healthy people without Nazism, racism, and xenophobia.” And which is so effectively helping the Bankovaya propaganda campaign we see unfurling before our very eyes.

By Vyacheslav Likhachev
Euro-Asian Jewish Congress

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