Nobody Is Rounding Up Jews In Ukraine

Yesterday, a troubling report that Jews in Donetsk were being ordered to report to the local authorities and register their property made the rounds in the press and on the Internet. Ioffe explains that the story is overblown:

Today, the Western press caught up with the Ukrainian rumor mill: apparently, the People’s Republic of Donetsk had ordered all Jews over the age of 16 to pay a fee of $50 U.S. and register with the new “authorities,” or face loss of citizenship or expulsion. This was laid out in officious-looking fliers pasted on the local synagogue. One local snapped a photo of the fliers and sent it to a friend in Israel, who then took it to the Israeli press and, voila, an international scandal: American Twitter is abuzz with it, Drudge is hawking it, and, today in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry slammed the fliers as “grotesque.”

The Donetsk Jewish community dismissed this as “a provocation,” which it clearly is. “It’s an obvious provocation designed to get this exact response, going all the way up to Kerry,” says Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. ”I have no doubt that there is a sizeable community of anti-Semites on both sides of the barricades, but for one of them to do something this stupid—this is done to compromise the pro-Russian groups in the east.”

But Anna Nemtsova talks to a local Jewish leader who points out that there are prominent anti-Semites within the pro-Russian camp and worries that nobody is looking out for his community:

According to Rabbi [Pinhas] Vyshedski, the press secretary of the self-proclaimed republic, Aleksander Kriakov, is “the most famous anti-Semite in the region.” Vyshedski wondered how separatists who are trying to position themselves as “anti-fascist” and claiming it’s Kiev that’s run by neo-Nazis could pick Kriakov as their spokesman. The sense of insecurity is heightened by the uncertainty and a feeling of abandonment. “I want to know why in two days of these threats, the Jewish community has not heard a single comment from either Donetsk—or from the Kiev authorities,” said the rabbi. … But the problem is, precisely, that there are no authorities who really control the situation in Donetsk Oblast just now.

Zack Beauchamp explains why this leaflet popped up:

Part of the reason this flier is such a big deal is that Russia and Ukraine are both using accusations of anti-Semitism as part of their attempt to portray the other side as in the wrong. The memory of World War Two, and of the devastation Nazi Germany caused their countries, is still fresh in both. Russia alleges that fascist supporters of the new Ukrainian government are threatening Jews, while the Ukrainians say the same about pro-Russian separatists.

So far, there’s very little evidence that the Ukrainian side is persecuting Jews. As Igor Volsky and Hayes Brown at ThinkProgress note, a recent UN report found could not find much evidence substantiating the Russian charges.

“Nobody is afraid of fascists,” east Ukrainian rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki told the New York Times. “But everyone is afraid of war with Russia.”

Freddie chides the US media for their credulity:

American media will believe literally anything you tell them about governments our own government doesn’t like, and the supposedly liberal, supposedly savvy, supposedly hip set are worse than anyone. Maybe every word of this story is true, and all the fevered panic about it is justified. But the broader point would remain the same: when it comes to “the bad guys,” American journalists will print anything, so long as it makes us look better and them worse.

American journos, pundits, writers, and internet obsessives: you are very, very bad at assessing evidence about regimes that your government does not like. You should not trust your own instincts when assessing the likelihood and legitimacy of stories about governments that are antagonistic to your own. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again, and then realizing the bad results after, is not an effective way to go about doing your job. Maybe try, you know, learning.

And Rosie Gray and Max Seddon frame the incident as a propaganda battle:

Ukraine’s Jewish community has become a flashpoint of the media war between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow and the Russian state-controlled media have revived old claims that Ukrainian nationalism is tantamount to Nazism and have amplified the voices of the existing Ukrainian far right, which is intensely anti-Russian. Russian President Vladimir Putin in March described the new Kiev government as “neo-Nazis, nationalists, and anti-Semites on the rampage.”

Pushilin, the pro-Russian local figure, has denied that his group put out the leaflets. And Kirill Rudenko, a spokesperson for the Donetsk Republic, also denied the group had anything to do with the flier. “This is a total lie. We haven’t handed out any fliers. Our only tasks are defending the occupier buildings and preparing for the referendum,” he told BuzzFeed. “This is an American Secret Services provocation to discredit us.”

But even as the source of the fliers remains unclear, the U.S. government Thursday mounted a coordinated campaign to tie the flier to the separatists.