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Weissman writes: "Hating Jews is nothing new in Ukraine. As far back as 1648-49, Cossacks and their allies in the Chmielnicki Massacres killed more than 100,000 Jews and destroyed some 300 Jewish communities."

Orthodox Jews pray in the small Ukrainian city of Uman, some 200 km (120 miles) south of Kiev. (photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
Orthodox Jews pray in the small Ukrainian city of Uman, some 200 km (120 miles) south of Kiev. (photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Ukraine: Will the Nazis and Jews Make Nice?

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

11 March 14


ating Jews is nothing new in Ukraine. As far back as 1648-49, Cossacks and their allies in the Chmielnicki Massacres killed more than 100,000 Jews and destroyed some 300 Jewish communities. In 1920, as American, British, and French troops were intervening against the Soviet Revolution, Ukrainians waged a massive pogrom that killed some 60,000 Jews. Whether the country’s leader at the time, General Simon Petlura, quietly encouraged the attacks remains a matter of historical dispute. During World War II, Stepan Bandera and other home-grown quislings helped the Nazis slaughter hundreds of thousands of Russians, Poles, Czechs, Armenians, Gypsies, anti-Fascist Ukrainians, and Jews, including the thousands killed at a ravine near Kiev called Babi Yar.

As a young Jew growing up in America, I regularly heard from my Eastern European elders that the Ukrainians were even nastier than the Nazis. Youngsters in Ukraine grow up with a different slant – that Stepan Bandera, Simon Petlura, and Bogdan Chmielnicki were national heroes who led independence struggles against Polish kings and aristocrats and the horrific, starvation-wracked rule of the Stalinist Soviet Union. No surprise, then, that Jew-baiting – and worse – now haunts the new Ukrainian government that Washington and the European Union helped bring to power. How could it be otherwise?

That said, a word of caution. Given how mixed and muddled recent events have been, don’t fall into the trap of dismissing the coup in Kiev as a neo-Nazi or “Brown Revolution.” It is so much more than that.

Blame the confusion in part on the Russians, who are only now calling attention to Ukraine’s well-known anti-Semitism. They remained silent when their man Viktor Yanukovych still clung to power and his riot police were told to blame the opposition protests on Jews.

Blame the confusion as well on the US and EU, who downplay the role played by Ukraine’s ultra-right and their own role in promoting the coup with at least some of the $5 billion dollars that the State Department’s Victoria Nuland boasted that the US had spent to promote democracy in Ukraine since its independence in 1991.

Add the still uncounted sums from Canada, Europe – much of it through Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) – and nominally private groups like Internews, Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund, the Omidyar Network, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute and its Ukrainian NGO, the International Renaissance Foundation. We’re talking serious money here, more than enough to make a revolution, whether orange, brown, or multi-colored.

Call their efforts “promoting democracy,” “building civil society organizations (CSOs),” “foreign meddling,” or just plain “regime change,” their goals have remained remarkably consistent. The funders want to bring to power a Ukrainian government willing to join NATO, which would extend the Cold War alliance right to Russia’s border and its Black Sea Fleet at Sebastopol. This is a direct provocation to Moscow, as I argued in “How to Defuse the Ukraine Crisis.”

Equally important, the funders want a Ukrainian government willing and able to follow financial and economic demands from Washington, Brussels, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As Robert Freeman and others argue, many of these demands revolve around oil, natural gas, and pipelines, which is no doubt true.

But, even apart from geo-strategic and historic issues, to reduce a complex conflict like Ukraine to little more than a resource war misses what the Americans and Europeans are demanding of the new interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, or “Yats,” as Nuland called him in her famously leaked telephone call to Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. An economist and former business partner of the truly corrupt, if unfairly prosecuted, multi-millionaire ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yats is expected to impose a massive austerity program on Ukraine. This will seriously hurt ordinary Ukrainians while enhancing the position of the billionaire oligarchs, who used their political connections to steal what the formerly socialist state once owned.

How do the foreign funders pursue these objectives? They fund exceptionally brave but reasonably compliant journalists, extremely compliant polling organizations and election monitors, pro-Western think tanks and political parties, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They ally themselves with the oligarchs while exposing the corruption and double-dealing of political opponents. They build support in the military, police, and security services. They train activists in nonviolent direct action. And, when necessary, they support a violent coup against a highly corrupt, but legitimately elected government.

Evidence for this can be found on the US foreign aid database and websites for, among others, Washington’s government-run National Endowment for Democracy and the heavily government-funded Freedom House. For all the happy talk about transparency, all are notoriously difficult to decipher. But one compelling bit of proof hides in plain sight.

In April 2013, an ownership fight threatened Ukraine’s TVi, which had been fairly independent and committed to investigative journalism. Fearing a loss of their editorial freedom, 31 journalists resigned and looked to create an Internet television channel called Hromadske.TV, which they translate as “Public TV.” Even online, this would be an expensive project, with a threshold budget of $300,000 per year, according to the organizers. They quickly found their funding, which they subsequently announced. George Soros’s International Renaissance Fund provided a grant. The US Embassy in Kiev provided the money to purchase the needed equipment. The Embassy of the Netherlands provided funds to get the online Hromadske.TV running.

The timing was crucial. The journalists hoped to be up and running in September, but everything took longer than expected. Yanukovych then stepped away from his proposed deal with the EU on November 20, and Hromadske.TV rushed into operation. The next day, one of the project’s leaders – Mustafa Nayem, a Muslim born in Kabul – posted a notice on Facebook calling students and other young people to assemble in Independence Square to protest Yanukovych’s decision. That was the beginning of the Euromaidan protests that ultimately brought the government down.

Should we blame the journalists for taking money where they could find it? It’s not an easy call. They wanted coverage for their protest, which they could not expect to get from the oligarchy-owned and generally pro-Yanukovych TV stations. Hromadske.TV provided that coverage, which a huge audience watched. But let’s not be naïve. By taking the money, the journalists became part of a CIA-style “destabilization campaign” that went far beyond their control.

This became clear all too quickly. As Max Blumenthal and other respected journalists tell it, neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists took leadership on the streets. They proudly paraded Nazi and white power symbols, along with Seig heil salutes, Confederate flags, and pledges to defend their country’s ethnic purity. According to one pro-Western Ukrainian source, Mustafa and the others “argued long and hard” for the ultra-right Svoboda and other opposition parties to remove their flags and stop trying to “hijack the protests.” But it was too late. No one was listening.

Svoboda (Freedom), which proclaims itself an ideological descendant of Stepan Bandera, largely took control. Oleh Tyahnybok, its leader, is widely known for urging his party to fight “the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine.” Tyahnybok’s deputy called the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis a “zhidofvka,” which is best translated “dirty Jewess” or “Jewish whore,” while party leaders regularly attack the “Zhids” (Yids), which is generally considered pejorative. Tyahnybok, who is now part of the new government, denies being an anti-Semitic or anything other than “pro-Ukrainian.”

Working with Svoboda were skinheads and other militants from the Right Sector (Pravy Sektor), who promised to fight “against degeneration and totalitarian liberalism, for traditional national morality and family values.” As Blumental tells it, they hope to lead their army of aimless, disillusioned young men on “a great European Reconquest.”

But, in the strangest twist of all, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that one of the platoons under overall command of Svoboda militants was led by a Ukrainian Jewish businessman who had served in a reconnaissance unit in the Israeli Defense Forces. Known only as “Delta,” he “headed a force of 40 men and women – including several fellow IDF veterans – in violent clashes with government forces.”

“I don’t belong [to Svoboda] but I take orders from their team,” he explained. “They know I’m Israeli, Jewish and an ex-IDF soldier. They call me ‘brother.’”

Delta claims that he never saw any expression of ant-Semitism during the protests, but still feels an outsider. “If I were Ukrainian, I would have been a hero,” he says. “But for me it’s better not to reveal my name if I want to keep living here in peace and quiet.”

Many observers clearly saw the expressions of anti-Semitism that Delta claims he did not. Haaretz reported the firebombing of a synagogue and other attacks, while Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman urged his congregation to leave Kiev – and even Ukraine if they could – to avoid being attacked. Other Jews, including a spokesman for the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), laugh off any Fascist threat by insisting that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is Jewish.

The Daily Stormer and other defenders of “the White European Race” broadcast the claim all over the Internet, citing a competing politician who accused him of being an "impudent little Jew … serving the thieves who are in power in Ukraine and is using criminal money to plough ahead towards Ukraine's presidency." As for Yats himself, just last year he explained his rejection of gay marriage as part of his personal beliefs as a Greek Catholic, part of Pope Francis’s flock.

What difference whether Yats is Jewish? Having suffered Hitler’s war and Holocaust, Europeans should have moved beyond their ethnic, racial, and religious chauvinism. But that’s not likely soon in Ukraine, and especially not if bitter austerity incites popular anger.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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