The Real Truth About Those Anti-Semitic Flyers in Donetsk

Russia Has Its Fingerprints All Over Them

Ignominious Return: The ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic Black Hundreds, here marching in Odessa in 1905, are back again.
Wikimedia Commons
Ignominious Return: The ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic Black Hundreds, here marching in Odessa in 1905, are back again.

By David E. Fishman

Published April 22, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The world has roared with indignation at the anti-Semitic flyers distributed by masked-men outside a synagogue in Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine. The flyers ordered local Jews to register with the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, in light of the fact that Jewish leaders in Kiev supported the Ukrainian “junta”. Since the Donetsk People’s Republic controls all of two government buildings that were seized by pro-Russian forces a week earlier, the flyers were mainly an act of political theatre. The intent was to frighten and intimidate Jews, not to register them. And perhaps to spark anti-Semitic sentiments among other local inhabitants.

The authorship of the flyers is hotly disputed. Denis Pushilin, the head of the People’s Republic whose name appears on the flyers, as the person ordering the registration, has repeatedly denied issuing them. He claims the flyers were a provocation by Ukrainian fascists, in order to discredit the pro-Russian movement. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has condemned the flyers, as has the right wing Ukrainian party “Svoboda” — a first, since “Svoboda” has a long history of anti-Semitism. The Ukrainians contend that the flyers are what they appear to be, the work of Russian separatists. There is no hard evidence either way, so the public is confused. A heinous act was perpetrated, but by whom?

With all the focus on the Donetsk incident, the conversation has missed the forest while being distracted by a single tree. During the past month, since the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has shifted its rhetoric and tactics in playing the “Jewish card.” It has embraced the language of classical Russian nationalism, going back to tsarist times, and has engaged the dark forces of the Russian ultra-right. That includes using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in the anti-Ukrainian campaign.

In a nutshell: the Kremlin’s attempt, back in late February and March, to paint the new Ukrainian regime as Nazi and anti-Semitic has failed. It didn’t pick up much traction in world public opinion. So now the Kremlin is spreading the line that the Ukrainian leaders are Jews. Or at the very least, servants and lackeys of Jews. The intended audience is no longer international; it is domestic.

It all started with a Russian television “documentary” on former Ukrainian President Yulia Tymoshenko, aired on March 30. The film was a propaganda piece in the Soviet style – unrelenting character assassination with ominous, grating background music. Tymoshenko’s whole career, the narrator intoned, was one of embezzlement, criminality, back-stabbing of associates, and secretly ordering assaults and killings. Then, toward the end, the culminating “disclosure”: Tymoshenko was Jewish. “She completely hides her origin. But for many, it is no secret that the father of this woman with a hair-braid — Viktor Abramovich Kapitelman — has Jewish roots.”

The implication was that now, in light of that fact, her pattern of lies, theft and murder all made sense.

A few days earlier, the same documentary news program did a similar hatchet-job on Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and indulged in the rhetoric of the 1970s: Yatseniuk was not just a Jew, but a Zionist. “One must take into consideration his Jewish origin. He is a Jew on his mother’s side, and is one of the fifty most famous Zionists in Ukraine.” No wonder he was an enemy of Russia.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.