World leaders and Jewish groups condemned a leaflet handed out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in which Jews were told to “register” with the pro-Russian militants who have taken over a government office in an attempt to make Ukraine part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.
Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website, and Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the language of the leaflets “is beyond unacceptable” and condemned whomever is responsible.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable — it’s grotesque,” he said. “And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities — from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of — there is no place for that.”
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt called the leaflets “the real deal.” But the man whose name appears on the leaflets, Denis Pushilin, identified as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government,” said he was not responsible.
Pushilin, who is a leader of the pro-Russian movement in Donetsk, acknowledged that leaflets were distributed under his organization’s name but denied any connection to them, Ynet reported.
Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held to join Russia.
Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, told Ynet his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.
“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flier and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.
READING BETWEEN LINES
The leaflet begins “Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality” and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register.”
It says the reason is because the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta, a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk,” a name adopted by the militant leadership.
The leaflet then described which documents Jews should provide: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”
Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship being revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property,” it said. A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.
‘SMELLS LIKE PROVOCATION’
Olga Reznikova, 32, a Jewish resident of Donetsk, told Ynet she never experienced anti-Semitism in the city until she saw this leaflet.
“We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists,” she said. “The text reminds me of the fascists in 1941,” she said referring to the Nazis who occupied Ukraine during World War II.
The Jewish community in Donetsk issued a statement saying the leaflet distribution “smells like a provocation.” The chief rabbi of nearby Dnipropetrovsk, Shmuel Kaminezki said, “Everything must be done to catch them.”
“It’s important for everyone to know its not true,” Kaminezki told CNN. “The Jews of Donetsk will not do what the letter says.”
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel group in the USA, said the leaflets should be seen in the context of a rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe.
“This is a frightening new development in the anti-Jewish movement that is gaining traction around the world,” Klein said.
Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, said it’s unclear whether the leaflets were issued by the pro-Russian leadership or a splinter group operating within the pro-Russian camp.
But he said the Russian side has used the specter of anti-Semitism in a cynical manner. Russia and its allies in Ukraine have issued multiple stories about the threat posed to Jews by Ukraine’s new pro-Western government in Kiev, Salberg said.
“The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”