Ukraine’s Jewish President and His Country’s Struggles with Its Past

Formerly an actor and comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky took office as president of Ukraine in May. Zelensky is Jewish, has relatives in Israel, and has visited the country several times to see family as well as to perform. In an interview with the Israeli journalist David Horovitz, he discusses some of the current controversies in Ukraine, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, regarding the darkest parts of 20th-century history. Horovitz writes:

[Zelensky] speaks at length about the Holodomor, the Soviet-imposed . . . famine of 1932–33, which killed millions, and with great respect for the victims of the Holocaust—and the need to bring a belated, honest historical account of these events into the open. He acknowledges but says less on the issue of Ukrainians’ participation in Holocaust crimes, preferring to highlight the actions of Ukraine’s righteous Gentiles, and the relative marginality of overt anti-Semitism in modern Ukraine.

[After speaking with Zelesnsky], I visited the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War—built in the Soviet era as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. An English-language guide at the section on the Babi Yar massacre was, significantly, telling her group that while others were killed there, “only Jews were killed for being Jews.” This simple, terrible truth contrasts with the norm in the Soviet era, when the fact that the Jews were targeted by the Nazis for genocide was not acknowledged. The Soviet memorial at Babi Yar, where 33,771 Jews were marched from their homes to be shot dead in the ravine on September 29–30, 1941, commemorates atrocities carried out against the Soviet people in general.

In the interview, Zelensky explained his plans to build a new memorial at the site:

First, a memorial will be constructed for all the Jews executed at Babi Yar. This is a large project, which includes a historical museum. . . . We should also remember that more than 2,500 Ukrainians were recognized by Yad Vashem as righteous Gentiles. Many of them are no longer alive. But some of them are still with us. Many of those people saved Jews, hid them, helped them to escape from the procession that went to Babi Yar. So we will definitely find a place in the memorial for them.

Zelensky also comments on the controversies surrounding streets and public spaces named after Ukrainian nationalists who participated in the mass murder of Jews:

[Since] we have so complicated a history, [we should endeavor to] build a common history. Let’s find those people whose names do not cause controversy in our present and in our future. Let’s name the monuments and streets for those people whose names do not provoke conflict. Nowadays, we have our own modern heroes—people who have made history, scientists, people in space exploration, great sportsmen, writers—who are widely respected in all parts of Ukraine. Let’s keep politics out of it.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Holocaust, Holocaust memorial, Righteous Among the Nations, Ukraine, Ukrainian Jews

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf