March 19, 2021

Bigotry, disrespect, and proper international behavior


To my personal dismay, since I have been hoping to see a Catholic from Western Ukraine elected president of Ukraine, on its 30th anniversary, Ukraine has been a model of diversity, though it has not included my own preference. Ukraine has had presidents from Volyn, Chernihiv by way of Dnipro, Sumy, Donetsk, Vinnytsia and Dnipro. Those presidents have included Orthodox Christians, a converted and baptized Jew, and currently a practicing Jew. While disappointed, I do not condemn Ukraine for its bigotry in not electing a Catholic from western Ukraine, preferably Ivano-Frankivsk or Ternopil. Lviv will do.

I remember sitting in Kyiv’s opera house with the late Ukrainian poet Ivan Drach, trying to enjoy a contrived artistic program which had been prepared essentially for the Jewish guests. Unfortunately, after the first 20 minutes or so, 90 percent of the audience had left the auditorium. Ivan Drach and I stayed to the bitter end, after all this was the 75th anniversary (in 2016) of the massacres at Babyn Yar, a site of significant remembrance for both Jews and Ukrainians. I did think that President Petro Poroshenko, of Jewish origin himself, had done well by organizing this commemorative program, not only to honor the victims, but ostensibly politically to bring our two people together. The Israeli response was less than gratifying, as the president of Israel during his keynote address delivered bigoted, accusatory remarks against Ukrainians for alleged complicity in the Holocaust.

It’s deja vu all over again. Recently Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine “demanded” that the Ternopil football stadium not be renamed in honor of the commander in chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) Gen. Roman Shukhevych. Aside from the lack of diplomacy by interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, the Israeli ambassador manifested egregious ignorance. Gen. Shukhevych’s wife and he saved at least one Jewish young girl from certain death by the Nazis by hiding her and even forging documents for her. I suspect that the Israeli ambassador had heard something about Gen. Shukhevych leading a Ukrainian military force into Ukraine together with German troops in June 1941.

Obviously, the ambassador could not be bothered with learning the historical facts. The Ukrainian government has not insisted that any action be taken against the ambassador.

There are two issues here. For the sake of transparency, I should stress that I certainly support the state of Israel, since every nation is entitled to self-determination and ostensibly the best structure contrived to date is an independent state. That same paradigm applies equally to the Palestinian nation, and while I support Israel, I do not support its discriminatory policies regarding Palestinians within Israel. I do at the same time feel that Israel should join the civilized global community, including by acceding to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. If Israel took an example from Ukraine, that would not be an issue. Nuclear Russia represents an equal if not greater threat to Ukraine than the non-nuclear Arab states represent to Israel.

Israel should also be more circumspect in choosing its government officials and diplomats. I might add that Prime Minister Netanyahu should have been more careful as well when he decided to bring along his wife to Ukraine, who at the airport in Kyiv in 2019 disgraced herself and Israel and disrespected her hosts, the Ukrainian people and the children who greeted her and her husband in traditional Ukrainian style with Ukrainian bread. The prime minister took a piece, broke it in two, ate his piece and gave the other portion to his wife, who with much fanfare threw it to the ground. There was no apology.

More importantly, however, in my opinion is the reaction of President Poroshenko in 2016, again in 2019 and President Zelensky in 2021, as well as Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministers. Both presidents may be Jewish by ancestral ethnicity or current belief, but they were and are presidents of Ukraine. Offensive behavior towards Ukraine and its people by representatives of any county cannot be tolerated. Israel, its leaders and representatives need to learn proper international behavior. Bigotry and disrespect results in reciprocity. That is not good for anyone.

Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law based in New York City who served as president of the Ukrainian World Congress in 1998-2008.