Ukrainian president condemns anti-Semitism in Knesset speech
Yushchenko visits Western Wall, Yad Vashem but stops short of apologizing for Ukrainian role in Holocaust.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko condemned anti-Semitism before the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem on Wednesday, but did not apologize for his country's role in the Holocaust.
Yuschenko told the Knesset his country would not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism or xenophobia. "We will fight against these evils that poison all good things," he said, adding that a museum commemorating the Holocaust is currently under construction in the Ukraine.
Before speaking at the Knesset, he toured the old city of Jerusalem and placed a prayer between the stones of the Western Wall. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz said Yuschenko told him the objective of his visit to Israel was to "express solidarity with the Jewish people and their heritage and pray at the religion's holiest site."
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik did not mention Ukrainian participation in the Holocaust while addressing Yuschenko, but did echo his sentiments on Stalin's massacre of Ukrainians.
On a tour of Jerusalem on Wednesday, Yushchenko and his wife Kateryna visited Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, where he was presented with documents concerning his father's imprisonment by the Nazis. Andrej Juschtschenko, the president's father, was a Soviet soldier who was captured in 1944 and imprisoned for a year.
Yushchenko appeared introspective while touring exhibits highlighting the killing of 1.4 million of Ukraine's 2.4 million Jews during the Holocaust.
His wife, Kateryna Yushchenko's was moved to tears by an exhibit about the Babi Yar massacre, in which 33,711 Jews were rounded up and shot on the edge of a ravine in Kiev between Sept. 29-30, 1941. The Nazis then buried some alive and beat others with shovels. Yushchenko gave the museum a sample of soil and a rock from the site.
Yuschenko said his country sought to play a role in efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and President Shimon Peres suggested that Kiev help with money.
Speaking at a joint news conference at Peres' official residence, Yushchenko said he held the relationship between Israel and Ukraine in high regard and suggested the two countries have a shared future, despite a difficult history.
"In the state of Israel we see a loyal partner and the best friend in all areas relating both to regional and global issues," Yushchenko said. "Ukraine wishes to play a role in the peace process."
Ukraine's powerful neighbor, Russia, is a member of the Quartet of international peacemakers, with the United States, United Nations and the European Union. Peres said he told his guest that helping bankroll peace projects would be more welcome than additional political engagement.
"Parallel to the political process there is now also an economic process, and I suggest that Ukraine take part in building the economic peace," Peres said. "I think the president (Yushchenko) liked this idea."
In World War II, some 1.4 million of Ukraine's 2.4 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, most famously in the Babi Yar massacre where more than 33,000 Jews were executed at the edge of a ravine in Kiev between September 29-30, 1941. Nazis rounded up the Jews and shot them on a platform built over the ravine, burying some alive and beating other survivors with shovels.
"We don't need to erase the past, nor should we neglect the future," said Peres. There have been some very difficult chapters in our history.