A Century Ago, Ukraine Saw a New Kind of War on the Jews

When World War I officially came to a close in November 1918, Ukraine was immediately plunged into a complex set of conflicts involving a reborn Poland, a short-lived independent Ukrainian state, Ukrainian anarchists, Soviets, and Russian anti-Bolsheviks (“Whites”) seeking to restore the tsarist empire. Most of these groups saw Jews as convenient targets for their anger. Within a few years’ time, between 100,000 and 250,000 Jews were slaughtered. Magda Teter describes the events in a review of several recent books on the subject. She begins with the fate the city once known as Lemberg. (Free registration required.)

Faced with a conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, the Jewish community in Lviv sought to remain neutral, a move that rendered it vulnerable to attacks from both sides. On November 22, soon after the Polish troops had taken control of the city, Jewish self-defense groups were disarmed, shops were looted, and, according to a 1919 report, “all who resisted were brutally assaulted or shot, and many women and girls were outraged,” an early-20th-century euphemism for rape. The violence lasted three days, leaving at least 73 and perhaps as many as 108 Jews murdered and 443 wounded.

The Lviv/Lwów pogrom was a turning point. It targeted a specific group that had been uninvolved in the struggle; it was organized and destructive, and, [the historian Jeffrey] Veidlinger shows, militarily sanctioned—“instigated by armed soldiers in the line of duty rather than by roaming gangs of ruffians or local discontents.” Most importantly, the massacre took place “not during the three-week conflict between Polish and Ukrainian forces over control of Lviv but rather after Polish soldiers had secured the city.” Jews thus were not “collateral damage” of a military operation but rather “were deliberately slaughtered.”

The pogroms of 1918–1921 differed significantly from previous pogroms: these massacres were approved and largely perpetrated by troops and people in positions of authority. Moreover, since the Ukrainian People’s Republic had proclaimed support for minority rights (a model later adopted by the Allied powers in the treaties with Poland and other newly emerging countries), including the recognition of Yiddish as one of the country’s official languages, the attacks were especially alarming. They demonstrated “to the Jews of Ukraine and to the world that even a government established on the principle of minority rights and national autonomy could not protect Jews from violence.”

Finally, pogroms in towns like Dubovo (near Cherkasy), Fastiv, and Proskuriv, where whole communities were wiped out in a matter of hours or days, made it possible to imagine genocidal murder.

Read more at New York Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, East European Jewry, Ukrainian Jews

 

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy