By Sam Sokol
Kiev–I’m sitting and writing from a hotel room in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, waiting for the start of the 2013 Kiev Interfaith Forum, an annual event bringing together religious leaders from around the world, representing Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Judaism, among others.
The event is the brainchild of the only kippa-wearing member of the Ukrainian Rada, or Parliament, MP Oleksandr Feldman of the ruling Party of Regions faction. While there are several Jews in Parliament, none are as publicly Jewish as Feldman, who is also the president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
Since last year’s forum, Svoboda, a far-right Ukrainian-nationalist party, has entered Parliament, taking 36 seats out of 450, or roughly 8 percent of the total representation in that body.
While Feldman has told the Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago that Svoboda members have been studiously ignoring him, it may be hard for them to ignore him now. The second day’s schedule for the forum includes a session in the Rada itself, to be attended by not only religious leaders but also by nationalist Israeli parliamentarian Zeev Elkin.
Beyond the rise of Svoboda, however, Jews in Europe have been facing the rise of allegedly anti-Semitic parties in several nations over the past year. In Greece, the Golden Dawn party has been raising eyebrows, with the Anti-Defamation League characterizing it as “a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic party that used an allegedly swastika-inspired emblem, employed a Nazi salute, referenced Mein Kampf, and denied the Holocaust.”
Meanwhile, the World Jewish Congress has moved its annual Plenary Assembly, to be held in May, from its usual Jerusalem venue to Budapest, Hungary, in solidarity with the local Jewish community, which feels endangered by the rise of the far-right Jobbik party, one of whose members recently made a public call for a list of Jews to be drawn up. Party leader Marton Gyongyosi even claimed, in Parliament, that Hungary’s Jews are a “security risk.”
One community leader, speaking with me at an event held in Tel Aviv last week by the Israeli Jewish Congress, however, did deny a report in Yediot Aharonot that hundreds of Jews are fleeing the country for Vienna. The migration, he said, is mainly due to Hungary’s economic woes.
2012 saw a “considerable escalation in anti-Semitic manifestations, particularly violent acts against Jews,” constituting a 30-percent increase over 2011, according to a Tel Aviv University study released earlier this month.
The report, published by the university’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, said the escalation followed two years of decline.
There were 686 acts of violence and vandalism last year, including “273 attacks on persons of all ages; in addition, 190 synagogues, cemeteries, and monuments were desecrated, and over 200 private and public properties damaged. There were 50 attacks with a weapon, 89 without, 166 direct threats on lives, and 373 cases of vandalism.”
The U.S. State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released last week, detailed worldwide trends in anti-Semitism. In the Ukraine, the State Department reported, the Jewish community expressed concern over both government and opposition candidates in recent elections trying to “use elements of anti-Semitism both in their public rhetoric to mobilize supporters and also as part of propaganda aimed at discrediting their political opponents.” The report said, however, that Ukrainian “senior government officials and politicians from various political parties continued efforts to combat anti-Semitism by speaking out against extremism and social intolerance and criticizing anti-Semitic acts.”
One of the most worrying trends, however, was revealed in Poland, where a survey conducted among high-school students on behalf of the local Jewish community revealed that 44 percent would be unhappy with having a Jewish neighbor and an equal percentage believe that “Poles and Jews suffered equally during the Holocaust.” Almost one fourth of respondents believed that Poles suffered even more than Jews. v