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Daily Israel Report

Jews Apprehensive Following Rise of Ukrainian 'Svoboda' Party

A European Jewish group expressed concern about safety of Jews in Ukraine following victory of anti-Semitic party in Sunday’s elections.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 10/30/2012, 10:31 AM

Leaders of Ukrainian opposition parties pose for picture after signing agreement to form coalition
Leaders of Ukrainian opposition parties pose for picture after signing agreement to form coalition
Reuters

A European Jewish group on Monday expressed concern about the safety of Jews in Ukraine following the surprise victory of a xenophobic and anti-Semitic party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, The European Jewish Press (EJP) reported.

The radical right-wing Svoboda (“Freedom”) party made surprise gains in Sunday’s national elections, obtaining 12% of the votes and securing 41 seats in the Ukrainian parliament.

The party, which openly admires the World War II pro-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army, is expected to legitimize public displays of anti-Semitism.

“We are not intending to interfere in internal Ukraine affairs and its voters' decisions, but we are very concerned about the safety of Jews in Ukraine and throughout Europe in light of growing anti-Semitic movements in Europe," said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, General Director of the European Jewish Association (EJA), in a statement.

He called on Ukrainian and EU leaders to ensure the safety of Jews in the country and across Europe.

Svoboda, which was formed in 2004, grew out of a movement that until then had called itself the Social-National party of Ukraine.   

The emblem of Svoboda’s predecessor closely resembled a Nazi swastika. When the party changed its name, however, it also changed its emblem to a “tryzub,” Ukraine’s national emblem.

While Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok has referred to Jews as being among the enemies of Ukraine, he now claims that he rejects the allegation that his party is anti-Semitic.

“I would like to address once again the high ranking officials of the state of Israel: we respect your patriotic feelings, the patriotic feelings of your citizens. Please do respect in return the same feelings for the citizens of Ukraine and respect the right of Ukrainians to express freely their will,” he said, according to euronews.

His assertion, however, provides little solace to Ukrainian Jewry, who are aware of Svoboda’s anti-Semitic history.

The party has organized a march against the thousands of Hassidic Jews who arrive every year for a pilgrimage at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in the southern Ukrainian town of Uman.

“Unfortunately I have read their speeches and statements not once but many times. So I do not need any proof that they are anti-Semitic,” said Rabbi Pynchas Vyshedski, according to euronews.

More than 800,000 Jews were killed in Ukraine during the Second World War.