Washington — He may lack the cachet and recognition of the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, but in the federal government’s sprawling bureaucracy, Ira Forman is the only official tasked with identifying and addressing anti-Semitism worldwide on behalf of the United States.
Now, suddenly, with Ukraine in crisis, Forman’s usually low-profile brief is front and center, as he is charged with making the call on whether the country’s Jewish community is now under threat.
As supporters of Ukraine’s new interim government and Russian leaders hurl anti-Semitism charges at each other, Forman is calling out Russia — and Russia alone — for peddling politically motivated accusations of Jew hatred, allegedly instigated by the new government in Kiev.
“I don’t think President Putin’s claims at this point seem to be very credible,” Forman said, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In an exclusive interview with the Forward, Forman made clear that Washington does not share Putin’s view that Ukraine’s Jews are under threat. “We have no indication that what President Putin has been saying about anti-Semitism has been a true reflection of what’s happening on the ground,” he said.
Forman is treading cautiously on the question of anti-Semitism following the Ukrainian revolution and Russia’s subsequent deployment of troops into Crimea, a sovereign territory of Ukraine. On the one hand, the administration does not take lightly reports of anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in recent weeks. But on the other hand, the administration wants to avoid giving credence to Moscow’s attempt to make political gains based on these reports.
The call made by the State Department’s special envoy fits well with the administration’s policy which views Russia as the aggressor in the dispute.
But some independent experts stress that players on both sides of the conflict, not just Russia, are playing the anti-Semitism card. “This is a media campaign to affect Jewish opinion and Western opinion, and both sides are playing it,” David Fishman, a professor of Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, told the Forward.
Forman, more cautious, acknowledged that players on both sides “could come under suspicion for the incidents we already have, playing an anti-Semitic card.”