(JNS.org) Results of the Crimea referendum held Sunday show that 95.7 percent of the voters in the Ukrainian peninsula support annexation of the area by Russia. The vote comes in the wake of an ongoing campaign by Russia to brand the new government of Ukraine as fascist, ultra-nationalist, and anti-Semitic.
Last week, a Kiev rabbi who runs the Ukrainian branch of the Jewish relief organization Hatzalah was attacked in a possible anti-Semitic incident. Rabbi Hillel Cohen was stabbed by two men who also shouted anti-Semitic slurs before leaving in a vehicle, Ukrainian police said.
Josef Zissels, chairman of VAAD Ukraine (a Jewish community umbrella organization) and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post he believes the latest attack was a provocation intended as a “justification for the continuation of Russian aggression” in Crimea and to “discredit the new government of Ukraine.”
Zissels was the lead signatory on a recent letter accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of exaggerating the level of anti-Semitism and general ultra-nationalism in Ukraine.
"Yes, we are well aware that the political opposition and the forces of social protests who have secured changes for the better are made up of different groups. They include nationalistic groups, but even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior. And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government—which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services," the letter stated.
Crimea itself is home to an estimated 17,000 Jews, concentrated in the cities of Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosia, and Yalta, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Despite the vote, JDC's operations in Crimea are continuing to run, including the delivery of Mishloach Manot last week for Purim.
"JDC is in constant contact with its staff on the ground in Crimea, and across the Ukraine, and will continue its work providing life-saving care for the Jews it serves, as it has done for the last 100 years," JDC Former Soviet Union Director Ofer Glanz told JNS.org.
Meanwhile U.S. President Barack Obama imposed sanctions Monday on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, and threatened to increase sanctions further if Russia "continues to interfere in Ukraine," Reuters reported.