caution in discussion of violence amidst propaganda, provocation and fear

Because of local community choices, I have been reluctant to discuss violence against the cultural property of minority communities in Ukraine.

Difficulty and disruption in reporting and discussion

There is a lot of propaganda, and the evidence is sometimes limited or difficult to confirm, which makes it difficult to report events in the first place.

For example, the synagogue in Mykolaiv/Nikolaev was firebombed with multiple Molotov cocktails. There was video evidence. Because grass (and rain) is rendered white in the night-vision camera recording, some viewers thought that there was snow, when the temperature was between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius and there was no snowfall even at ski resorts, so they believed or maliciously alleged that it was a hoax/forgery. However, the Rabbi of Nikolaev, Sholom Gottleib confirmed the attack; and his son, Tomim Yisroelik Gottleib, provided photographs of the fire damage.

They have never experienced anti-Semitism in eastern Ukraine?

Numerous representatives and other members of the Jewish Ukrainian community have insisted: ‘We have never had any problems here’ (Asya Kreimer). ‘I never experienced anti semitism in Donetsk before this’ (Leonid Krasnopolsky). ‘I have lived in Donetsk my entire life and have never had to deal with anti-Semitism until I laid eyes on this piece of paper’ (Olga Reznikova). ”Til the last fact of this flyer [which demanded the registration of Jewish citizens and their assets], we didn’t meet any facts [we hadn’t found any evidence or we hadn’t experienced any acts] of anti-Semitism in the east of Ukraine’ (Chief Rabbi of Donetsk, Pinchas Vyshetsky). Rabbi Vyshetsky called for an ‘end [to] discussion’ of ‘provocation[s]’.

They have implied that, if anti-Semitic violence is happening, it is only happening elsewhere in Ukraine. Rabbi Vyshetsky explicitly stated that it was ‘rare [in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine], unlike in Kiev and western Ukraine‘. It certainly is happening elsewhere – for example in Kyiv, where a Hebrew teacher and a yeshiva student have been attacked; and in Odesa, where a Holocaust memorial and a Jewish cemetery have been desecrated. It is also happening in the occupied areas – for example, in Sevastopol, where ostensible anti-fascist Communists converted the Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust into a Monument to the Holocaust; and in Simferopol, where a synagogue has been desecrated and fear has driven Rabbi Misha Kapustin out of Crimea.

It may be true that there have been no (other) acts of anti-Semitism in Donetsk. But last year, neo-Nazis desecrated the Holocaust memorial in Nikopol. This year, apart from the firebombing in Mykolaiv, unknown persons firebombed the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhzhya; secessionists/annexationists in Luhansk publicly protested against the Maidan ‘coup perpetrated by [Jews and] Zionists’. All of those are in south-eastern Ukraine and Donetsk is between them. It is not true that there have been no acts of anti-Semitism in the east.

Anti-Semitic violence throughout the country is only performed by agents provocateurs in the current conflict?

The Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Dov Bleich, considers apparently anti-Semitic violence to be ‘cynical abuse of anti-Semitism’ through agents provocateurs who are ‘highly professional operatives’ (implicitly, Russian state agents).

But the Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust in Sevastopol on its own has a lifelong history of desecration. And the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism (CFCA) has documented 391 attacks upon Jewish people and places throughout Ukraine in the last thirteen years, 370 of those before the beginning of EuroMaidan (and they appear to document only the incidents that reach the media). So it is real; and, at least in the occupied territory, it is now serious enough to have driven Rabbi Kapustin into exile.

Tactical denial?

As I have discussed in relation to Cyprus (html/pdf), sometimes, victims of violence create well-meaning myths of non-violence in the hope that they can make it a reality or otherwise manage any risk.

During the inter-communal conflict of the summer of 1958, the village’s Turkish Cypriot mukhtar said that ‘nobody ever threatened us Turks in Morphou’…; yet recently, a Greek Cypriot villager, author Nearchos Georgiades…, said that he had taken part in an attack on Morphou/Güzelyurt’s mosque and Turkish Cypriot school at that time [which had been ordered by a paramilitary organisation], and that Turkish Cypriot villagers had recognised the attack precisely as ‘a threatening warning [μια απειλητική προειδοποίηση]’.

Indeed, the Turkish Cypriot community partially evacuated.

The mukhtar’s claim of local peace amid island-wide conflict may have been an attempt to ease local tension, to bring peace into existence by the very act of saying it existed already; and, as such, it may have been a justifiable tactic at the time.

This is why I am very reluctant to make an issue out of any violence that is happening. But I cannot explain that without demonstrating the reality of the violence that is being denied.

Plus, while it can serve a purpose in the short-term, in the long-term, the denial of violence can undermine trust, security and peace. So, it is important both to establish the facts and to allow the local community to use its best judgement in managing the situation.

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