Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the separatist leader of attempting to “sow internal ethnic discord in Ukraine and weaken the regime that the Russian insurgents are fighting.”
Ukraine is run by “miserable Jews,” one of the leaders of the Russian-backed insurgency roiling the former Soviet republic told a press conference on Tuesday.
Ukrainian nationalist figures of previous generations would roll over in their graves if they could see the current leadership in Kiev, said Alexander Zakharchenko, president of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic.
“Petro Poroshenko is unworthy of leading a Cossack nation,” Zakharchenko asserted, pouring scorn onto the first president of Ukraine since the massacre in Kiev’s Maidan Square in 2014.
Jewish communities in Ukraine and abroad were quick to condemn Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky, who heads the insurgency in nearby Luhansk.
“It is clear that Zaharchenko’s statement was offensive, and it also reflects old prejudices most post-Soviets carry,” said Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the separatist leader of attempting to “sow internal ethnic discord in Ukraine and weaken the regime that the Russian insurgents are fighting,” said SWC chief Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff.
“That appears to be the motivation, which is based on the Russians’ assumption that anti-Semitism continues to be deeply entrenched in Ukrainian society,” said Zuroff, who condemned the use of anti-Semitism for propaganda purposes in the conflict.
“The anti-Semitic jibe is clear in the video of the press conference,” a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League asserted.
“After several minutes of calling on Ukrainian citizens to disobey and reject President Poroshenko and his government, Zakharenko and Plotnitsky snicker and ask how ‘Cossacks could be ruled by the not quite right kind of people.’ Zakharenko then explicitly mentions ‘Jews.’ “Plotnitsky immediately tries to provide cover against any accusation of anti-Semitism by saying there is a YouTube video about Jewish Cossacks, and Kyiv’s leaders are ‘pathetic representatives of the great Jewish people.’ But their body language gives them away.
“Plotnitsky begins to smirk at the beginning of the performance, knowing what is coming. Zakharenko tries not to laugh as he’s speaking, and says ‘Jews’ very subtly, before Plotnitsky tries to inoculate them from the anti-Semitism accusation with comments that came so quickly they were obviously planned.
Those watching understood very well that this was an anti-Semitic dog whistle.”
The press conference was reminiscent of Russian television during last year’s Ukrainian elections, when leading candidates were accused of being Jews, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich told The Jerusalem Post.
“This exact legacy is being continued and perpetuated,” he said, calling Russia hypocritical for accusing the administration in Kiev of anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Aryeh Shvartz, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Donetsk, said that while he had heard about the press conference, until now he had not experienced any hostility against Jews or Judaism.
“I can say it’s the opposite. They have acted well toward us,” he said.