UMAN, Ukraine –Ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke visited Ukraine’s largest university last week to give a stump speech on what he calls “radical Jewish extremists” — his phrase for the Israeli and American government.
Duke has become a regular at the university, the Inter-Regional Academy of Personnel Management, which is known by its Ukrainian acronym, MAUP. Last year, Duke was a featured speaker at the university’s conference, “Zionism: Threat to World Peace,” and he has received both a doctorate and an honorary doctorate from the Ukrainian school. This time around, Duke’s talk in front of university administrators drew particular attention to MAUP’s legal battles with its Jewish critics.
“The Jewish extremists — the Zionists — they don’t want there to be academic freedom in this country, or political freedom in this country,” Duke said in a speech that was also broadcast on his personal Web site. “This university and your students and faculty are resisting this attack.”
Duke was referring to what has become an intense legal tug of war between MAUP on one side and Jewish activists and western governments on the other. The United States State Department has labeled MAUP the leading purveyor of antisemitic material in Ukraine. The American and Israeli embassies in Kiev, along with Jewish organizations, have lobbied the Ukrainian government to take a number of steps to force out the school’s current leadership.
MAUP’s leaders have struck back in force. In the past year alone, the university has launched dozens of lawsuits against Ukrainian journalists, rabbis, politicians and academics — anyone who suggests that the university is antisemitic.
A number of possible reasons have been given for MAUP’s anti-Jewish efforts. The State Department alleged in an official report that Middle Eastern governments funded the school. Whatever the explanation, the resulting confrontation has international consequences and is drawing in many of the most significant players in the Ukrainian political community.
Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko resigned from his place on MAUP’s board last December. Members of the United States Congress debated the situation during negotiations over a American-Ukrainian trade bill. And Vadim Rabinovich, a media magnate and a leader of the Jewish community in Ukraine, has been the target of repeated lawsuits.
One of the newest suits arose out of an effort to show just how excessive the legal battles have become. In September, a leading rabbi in Kiev, Yaakov Bleich, went on television. When asked during a television interview what problems Ukraine was facing, Bleich brought up MAUP.
“For instance,’” Bleich said he told the interviewer, “right now, I’ll say on television that MAUP is antisemitic and the guy who runs it is antisemitic. I can expect to be sued by them very shortly.”
“Sure enough” Bleich added, “two weeks later, they announced the suit. Now they are just attacking anything that moves. They feel the pressure.”
A spokeswoman for the university declined to comment on the court cases.
Little of the enmity and courtroom machinations is evident on a visit to MAUP’s campus in suburban Kiev.
The school was founded in 1989 as a private alternative to Ukraine’s public university. It now has about 57,000 students. Courses on business and agriculture are taught on a leafy campus that is decked with only a slight overdose of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.
In general Ukrainian society, criticism of the school tends to focus on its low academic standards — the State Department described MAUP as a “diploma mill,” and the Ukrainian ministry of education revoked thousands of diplomas that were improperly distributed.
But students coming down the main walkway — through a gate that reads “Vivat Academia” — said they had heard little about MAUP’s problems with the Jews. Nastia Gukin, a 17-year-old banking student, said that “the students have their own lives. Whatever goes on in the publishing house is separate from us.”
It is at the upper echelons where the university is becoming consumed by the ever-widening campaign to expose the perceived misdeeds of the Jews. Last year, the president of the university, Geogy Schokin, founded a political party, the Ukrainian Conservative Party, which had an election list stacked with MAUP professors. While the Ukrainian officials rejected a request from the Israeli government to ban Schokin from the elections, the party garnered only .09% of the vote, far from the minimum needed for a seat.
Schokin laid out his philosophy in a lecture titled “Dialogue of Civilizations,” which he presented at a 2002 conference. In bombastic academic language, Schokin explained that Jews around the world are aiming for the “creation, above all, of an extensive and multi-branch network of secret societies coordinated from a single center and based on man-hating principles, ‘consecrated’ by appropriate religious and historical legends and traditions, the core and pivot of which reside in the doctrine of racial ‘selectness,’ and a maniacal dedication to and enthusiasm for the ‘super-idea’ of world supremacy.”
For critics, Schokin’s influence is felt most widely in MAUP’s publishing houses, which publish 400 books, including the works of Schokin and David Duke. Another title is “Sioniski Protocols: Sources and Documents,” which had a print run of 5,000. In the book, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an antisemitic hoax created by the tsarist secret police, is treated as a genuine document from Jewish hands.
The English summary at the back explains that “Talmud ideology creates some tragic actions in human history, compares Hebrews to the world, and proclaims them as a ‘selected nation.’ This book is intended for researchers of said issue and for global audience.”
The MAUP presses also put out a magazine and a newspaper. One copy of the newspaper, “Personal Plus,” in late September included a piece about a Holocaust memorial service (“Tragedy is good for making money”), a book review (“Greedy American and Jewish corpocrats think that they can steal from other people”) and an article about an award for an Israeli poet at a recent book fair, where MAUP’s display booth was put next to the toilet (“The organizers showed where the place is for the opponents of the Zionists”).
It is these publications that have sparked a number of the lawsuits. A Ukrainian Jewish journalist, Eduard Doks, was sued after making comments at a press conference about the kiosks where MAUP sells its publications. That suit was dropped earlier this week, Doks said, after a judge found that MAUP did not follow “proper legal procedure.” MAUP has had more success in its lawsuits against Jewish tycoon and media owner Vadim Rabinovich, who is president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine. MAUP has launched numerous lawsuits against Rabinovich’s Capitol News, and two months ago it celebrated a victory with a special posting on its Web site. The judge had ordered Rabinovich to pay the university $9,000.
The legal framework of these cases has not always been clear. Doks says that the Jewish critics have lost the court cases “because national legislation does not have a definition of antisemitism.”
But Bleich, the chief rabbi, says the reason for the court victories is easier to understand: MAUP has been willing to bribe judges. “They are paying off judges; there is no question about it,” Bleich said.
MAUP’s spokespeople did not return phone calls for comment. When a Forward reporter visited the administrative offices, a spokeswoman shut the door after saying, “You can see everything on the Web site.”
The pressure on MAUP has been increasing during the past year. The school was drawn into negotiations earlier this year in the United States over the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of legislation that restricted America’s trade relations with Ukraine. According to Jewish activists, when Congress was deciding whether to end these restrictions on Ukraine, the decision became linked to the Ukrainian government’s promise to rein in MAUP.
“We’ve been pressing the government on this for a long time,” said Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
The Ukrainian government has not ignored these requests. The government’s ministry of education has shut down a number of MAUP’s regional branches over the past few months. In the Ukrainian parliament, a Jewish member, Alexander Feldman, has pushed the president and prosecutors to do more; however, even if he succeeds with this, Feldman told the Forward he is not sure what silencing effect it will have.
“They enjoy lawsuits,” said Feldman, who is initiating his own suit against the university. “The more they get sued, the more P.R. they have. It supports their image of victims.”
Nathaniel Popper traveled to Ukraine on a World Affairs Journalism Fellowship administered by the International Center for Journalists. The fellowship is funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.