Order for Jews in east Ukraine to register just 'provocation': rabbi
Pamphlets ordering Jews in east Ukraine's main city to register sparked a fierce storm of indignation on Thursday, with strident condemnation from Western officials and dire fears of a Nazi-style pogrom -- but were sceptically dismissed by the local chief rabbi as nothing more than "provocation".
"What happened of course smells of a provocation. As to who is behind it -- that is an open question," rabbi Pinkhas Vyshedski said in comments published on the website of the Donetsk Jewish community.
The fliers -- which told Jews they had to register with the region's self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist authorities or face deportation and confiscation of their property -- were handed out late Tuesday in front of the synagogue in the city of Donetsk by three unidentified men in camouflage uniforms and ski masks who left before police arrived.
Reports of the incident, picked up by Israeli and US media, caused outrage and concerns that the pro-Russian separatists were starting a persecution of Jews reminiscent of that carried out by the Nazis leading up to World War II.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said after participating in talks with Ukrainian and Russian counterparts in Geneva that the distribution of the pamphlets was "grotesque".
"In the year 2014, after all of the miles travelled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable, it's grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable," he told reporters.
The US embassy in Kiev confirmed to AFP that some in the Jewish community had told it they were worried by the tracts.
The ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, told CNN: "Everything that we're hearing is that this is the real deal, and that it is apparently coming from somebody on the ground there among these radical groups, either to stir fear or to create provocation justifying further violence."
But scepticism immediately followed.
The struggle over east Ukraine, where Kiev is wrestling to assert its authority after the seizure of public buildings in 10 towns by pro-Russian separatists, is awash with propaganda and actions designed deliberately to inflame hostility towards one side or the other.
As well as the doubts expressed by the region's chief rabbi, one of the world's main groups fighting anti-Semitism, the US-based Anti-Defamation League, stressed in a statement that it, too, was "sceptical about the flier's authenticity".
"We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year," said the group's national director, Abraham Foxman.
Nevertheless, he added, "we strongly condemn the anti-Semitic content, but also all attempts to use anti-Semitism for political purposes."
Russia has repeatedly accused the new authorities in Kiev of being dominated by anti-Semites and fascists following the ouster of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February.
© 2014 AFP