Anti-Semitism in the Ukraine and Elsewhere in Europe
On the centenary of the infamous Beilis trial, an international conference on anti-Semitism was held on October 15-16, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine, the city where the trial took place. The trial is probably the best known of those based on blood libel charges against Jews. Menachem Mendel Beilis, a 39-year-old Jew was accused on March 20, 1911 of murdering a 13-year-old Christian boy whose body was found in a cave near a Jewish owned brick factory outside Kiev. Beilis was accused of taking the boy's blood in an act of ritual murder to make matzos for Passover.
After spending two years in prison, Beilis was exonerated and acquitted in 1913. The case was not only important in itself, but was also influential in indicating the intense anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire, already the source of the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It led to increased Jewish emigration from Russia; ironically, in light of the Nazi Holocaust, this emigration saved millions from their death. The case is also the basis of Bernard Malamud's novel, The Fixer.
But the acquittal of Beilis did not end blood libel charges against Jews. The most important recent charge, made by Palestinians, is that the Israeli medical team helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 was really interested in taking the body organs of the victims for use in Israel and benefiting from them.
Discussion at the conference in Kiev mainly concerned the Beilis affair, but it also revealed the preliminary results of a survey to be fully published in November 2013.
This survey, organized by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is a report on the experiences and perceptions by 5,100 Jewish people in nine European countries on anti-Semitism, hate crime, and discrimination between September 2012 and September 2013.
The preliminary conclusions are not cheerful. They show that European Jews perceive and are personally experiencing an increase in anti-Semitism. Of those responding to the survey, one in four European Jews said that because of fear of anti-Semitism they did not visit places wearing apparel, such as a kippah or an identifiable Jewish article or symbol that would identify them as Jews. In Sweden, 49 percent of respondents felt this way; in France, 40 percent said the same.
Of the nine countries in the survey, the strongest expression of fear was in Hungary where 91 percent of the respondents said that anti-Semitism had increased in the last five years. In France, Sweden, and Belgium, the number who felt the same way was more than 80 percent. In three countries, Germany, Italy, and Britain, it was more than 60 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, the figure was lowest in Latvia, with 39 percent.
On a personal level, the reports in the different countries were also troubling. The number of those who reported they had experienced anti-Semitic incidents in the previous year was 30 percent in Hungary, 21 percent in France, and 16 percent in Germany. A considerable majority said they did not report anti-Semitic harassment to the police and did not report physical assaults, explaining this would be ineffectual.
The respondents differed on identifying the perpetrators of Anti-Semitism. Twenty-seven percent thought they were Muslims; 22 percent though they were people with "left-wing" views, and 19 percent thought they were people with "right-wing" views.
The final report in November 2013 will provide further details of the survey, but the preliminary results suggest the need for further collective international understanding of the virus of anti-Semitism and the need for education and action to eradicate it. It is time for public officials, the media, church bodies, and academics to draw attention in a more comprehensive way to attitudes and actions of anti-Semitism. Perpetrators of anti-Semitism, at whatever level, must, as a minimum, be made ashamed about those behavior and discriminatory actions. Whether such actions can be considered criminal offenses must be decided by individual judicial systems.
The Kiev conference must have been aware of problems of persecutions of Jews, past and present, in the Ukraine, where Jews have lived for more than 1,000 years. During World War II, Ukrainians helped the Nazi occupiers in carrying out the Holocaust: only 2 percent of the Jewish Ukrainian population survived. A Ukrainian Nazi unit, the Nachtigall Brigade, in July 1941 slaughtered an estimated number of 4,000 Jews, killing them wherever they were met. The memory of Ukrainian hostility towards Jews, especially in the massacre, the single largest massacre of the Holocaust, at Babi Yar, near Kiev, where 33,000 Jews were killed in one operation on September 29-30, 1941 by decision of the Nazi military commander and the Einsatzgruppe with the complicity of the Ukranian auxiliary police, should make contemporary Ukrainian officials conscious of present-day anti-Semitic manifestations and act accordingly.
These manifestations are noticeable in Svoboda (Freedom), originally named the Social-National Party of Ukraine: the party is comparable to the Jobbik party in Hungary, and the Golden Dawn party in Greece in its anti-democratic posture. Svoboda is an openly anti-Semitic, nationalist, and anti-Communist party, which can be called a neo-Nazi party. It won 10 percent of the national vote, gaining 41 seats in the 2012 national election which made it the 4th-largest party in the legislature.
Among the false accusations made by Svoboda is that the famine in the Ukraine, the so-called Holodomor, in 1932-33, that is estimated to have killed at least 3.5 million, and the death and deportations of peasant farmers (kulaks), was due to the Jews. Ironically, the existence of the famine was denied both by Joseph Stalin, whose policies of collectivization and industrialization almost certainly caused it, and by Walter Duranty, the correspondent in Moscow of the New York Times, who falsely reported that "there was no actual starvation or deaths from starvation" in the Ukraine.
Members of the Svoboda party appear to have little shame. One of their
parliamentary representatives, Igor Miroshnichenko, has used a slur against the Hollywood actress Mila Kunis, who is of Ukrainian Jewish origin, by speaking of her as "not Ukrainian[,] but a zhydovka (yid or dirty Jewess)." Sadly, the Ukrainian Justice Ministry held that the word zhyd to describe a Jew was legal. It is not clear whether the October conference in Kiev dealt with this issue and criticized Miroshnichenko. If not, perhaps Kunis's Hollywood coterie can do so and shame this person and other anti-Semites who are so lacking in honor.
Michael Curtis is the author of Jews, Anti-Semitism, and the Middle East.