(JTA) – In a rare public statement on the honoring of anti-Semites in Ukraine, Israel’s ambassador to that country called the phenomenon a “problem” that is “not in line” with Israel’s interests.
Eliav Belotzercovsky said this Friday during a conference of the Limmud FSU group in the southern city of Odessa, according to a translation of his remarks provided by a spokesperson for the organization, which organizes Jewish learning conferences for Russian speakers across the former Soviet Union and beyond.
His comments followed a wave of condemnations by several Jewish groups for the unveiling in the western city of Vinnitsa of a statue for Symon Petliura. During Petliura’s time as head of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, 35,000 to 50,000 Jews were killed in a series of pogroms between 1918 and 1921. In recent years, various honors have been paid in Ukraine to several nationalists who are admired locally for fighting Russian domination, but also reviled over accusations of hatred of Jews and complicity in atrocities against them.
“Israel has a sympathetic ear in Ukraine, there is constant interaction with the government in order to deal with the problem,” Belotzercovsky is quoted as having said. “There is a trend, nationalism is on the rise,” Belotzercovsky reportedly added at the weekend-long event, which drew 1,000 participants. A theme of the conference in Odessa is the exploration of the roots there of the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. His paternal grandmother, Anna Zimmerman, together with her husband Zigman, immigrated to the United States from Odessa in 1910. Today, approximately 80,000 Jews live in Odessa.
Separately, the World Jewish Congress’ International Yiddish Culture Center will be holding an international conference in Odessa next week devoted to the centenary of death of the Mendele Mokher Sforim, one of the best-known writers in Yiddish.
Earlier this year, the western municipality of Kalush near Lviv was sued for deciding to name a street for Dmytro Paliiv, a commander of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, also known as the 1st Galician.
The naming of the street for Paliiv, whose troops murdered countless Jews during the Holocaust, is part of a series of gestures honouring nationalists in Ukraine following the 2014 revolution, in which nationalists played a leading role. They brought down the government of President Viktor Yanukovuch, whose critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge.
Also before the revolution, Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych and other nationalists accused of complicity in the murder of Ukrainian Jews have received honors from state authorities for their fight against Russia.
But the level and frequency of state-sponsored glorification of their actions has increased dramatically after the revolution, which sparked an armed conflict with Russian troops and separatists loyal to Moscow.
Israel has remained largely silent on this issue in accordance with her policy of neutrality on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.