Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Tuesday that Ukrainian leadership was made up of “miserable representatives of the great Jewish people.”
By insisting that Ukrainian leaders were “miserable” Jews, Zakharchenko utilized a time-tested technique: branding the country’s leadership as Jews in an attempt to undermine and delegitimize their authority.
“I can’t remember a time when Cossacks were led by people who have never held a sword in their hands,” said Zakharchenko at a press conference in Donetsk, adding that the country’s ancestors “would turn in their graves if they could see who is running Ukraine.” Zakharchenko made the announcement next to Igor Plotnisky, a pro-Russian leader whose forces are occupying Lugansk, Ukraine.
The pro-Russian leaders also announced on Monday that they were calling up another mass of reinforcements, which they said will take the insurgent militia’s population up to 100,000 troops.
“It is clear that Zakharchenko statement was offensive, and it also reflects old prejudices that most post-soviets carry,” explained Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Comittee.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a statement accusing the pro-Russian leader of attempting to “sow internal ethnic discord in Ukraine and weaken the regime that the Russian insurgents are fighting.” Efraim Zuroff of the Center said, “That appears to be the motivation, which is based on the Russians’ assumption that anti-Semitism continues to be deeply entrenched in Ukrainian society.”
A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated, “The anti-Semitic jibe is clear in the video of the press conference. After several minutes of calling on Ukrainian citizens to disobey and reject President Poroshenko and his government, Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky snicker and ask how ‘Cossacks should be ruled by the not quite right kind of people’. Zakharchenko then explicitly mentions ‘Jews.’”
The ADL spokesman continued:
Plotnitsky immediately tries to provide cover against any accusation of anti-Semitism by saying there is a YouTube video about Jewish Cossacks, and Kiev’s leaders are ‘pathetic representatives of the great Jewish people.’ But their body language gives them away. Plotnitsky begins to smirk at the beginning of the performance, knowing what is coming. Zakharchenko tries not to laugh as he’s speaking, and says ‘Jews’ very subtly, before Plotnitsky tries to inoculate them from the anti-Semitism accusation with his comments that came so quickly they were obviously planned. Those watching understood very well that this was an anti-Semitic dog whistle.