Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine (file)
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine (file)Reuters

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Wednesday said it was "deeply troubled" by the anti-Semitic statements made by the pro-Russian separatist leaders of Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk "People's Republics" on Monday.

In a press conference held by Alexander Zakharchenko of Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky of Lugansk, Zakharchenko called the Ukrainian government in Kiev "pathetic representatives of the great Jewish people."

He added another anti-Semitic jab, saying "I can't remember a time when Cossacks were led by people who have never held a sword in their hands." Plotnitsky responded by trying to cover the anti-Semitism, says ADL, by referring to a YouTube video about "Jewish Cossacks."

"Those watching understood very well that this was an anti-Semitic appeal," responded Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.

"Their body language clearly gave them away as Plotnitsky began to smirk at the beginning of the performance, knowing what was coming, and Zakharenko, who tried not to laugh as he was speaking, said ‘Jews’ very subtly, before Plotnitsky tried to inoculate them from the anti-Semitism accusation with his comments, which came so quickly they were clearly pre-planned," noted Foxman.

Thoroughly condemning the phenomenon, Foxman added "anti-Semitism has no place in political speech, and any attempt to espouse anti-Jewish hatred within any political arena is simply unacceptable."

The press conference, in Russian, can be viewed here:

The unrest in Ukraine has been accompanied by widespread anti-Semitism, which was most blatantly unfurled last April when pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk reportedly distributed fliers calling for Jews to identify themselves.

Likewise, a Ukrainian synagogue was firebombed, and a band of pro-Russian militants attacked a Jewish-owned bank ostensibly over political differences. 

Also in April the Jewish mayor of Kharkiv was shot - his life was saved after being flown to Israel for medical treatment.