Ukrainian Jews Look to Israel as anti-Semitism Escalates

Anti-Jewish incidents elicit a warning from U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden during a visit to Ukraine.

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Pro-Russian activists at the barricades in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Russian activists at the barricades in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.Credit: AP

Anti-Jewish violence in Ukraine seems to be escalating.

In the past week alone, there have been reports of a synagogue being fire-bombed in the south-eastern city of Nikolayev, the desecration of the tomb of Dov Ber Schneerson, brother of the late Lubavicher Rebbe, in Dnepropetrovsk and the vandalizing of the Holocaust memorial in Sevastopol.

Those incidents followed the distribution in Donetsk of a leaflet calling on all Jews to register with the self-declared, pro-Russian authorities. Separatist leader Denis Pushilin, whose name appeared on the leaflet, denied that his organization was responsible and its authenticity has not been proved.

Nevertheless, the upsurge of anti-Jewish activity has led many Jews to question their future in the ethnically divided country. That concern has been exacerbated by fears of a possible Russian invasion of the east of the country.

"It is hard to talk about numbers but I see that there are more people who come asking how to apply for repatriation," said Alexander Ivanchecko of Sohnut, a group that helps Jews who want to emigrate to Israel, according to the Daily Express.

"I cannot say for sure that they will make a decision to leave, but I do see a rise in the level of interest," he added.

The rise of anti-Jewish violence led U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to warn that there was "no place" for anti-Semitism in Ukraine, during a visit to the former Soviet republic earlier this week.

Just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry, Biden said according to the Associated Press. Let me say that again, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms all threats and attacks against Ukrainian Jewish communities as well as Roma and others."

Sohnut's Ivanchecko said that "it is clear that such anti-Semitic provocations have not happened here since World War Two, and no matter who was behind the leaflets, the message itself and the fact that they appeared, do scare people.

According to Jewish Agency figures, 221 Jews immigrated from Ukraine to Israel in the first quarter of 2013 and 375 immigrated during the same time period this year.

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