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26-Nov-2016 03:14

“We had hoped Svoboda would tone it down once it’s in parliament, but the opposite has happened,” said Vyacheslav Likhachev, a Ukrainian researcher with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.“The electoral gains have emboldened Svoboda lawmakers to incorporate thuggery as a modus operandi, a very dangerous development.” One example came in February, when party member Igor Miroshnichenko shimmied up the towering statue of Vladimir Lenin in the town of Akhtyrka, threw a rope around the communist leader’s head, tied the other end to a truck and brought down the monument.Svoboda officials declined several JTA requests for comment for this story.In February, Likhachev signed a letter along with several other Jewish Ukrainians asking the Jewish Agency for Israel to cancel plans to hold its board of governors meeting in Kiev in June.“Svoboda is troubling as a symptom of the main challenges facing Ukrainian Jewry: the economic recession and political uncertainty,” Bleich said.Still, he added, “because Svoboda is a mob, it’s less predictable than Jobbik.Some suggested the men were anti-Svoboda activists seeking to tarnish its image.But denials notwithstanding, the incident has raised anxieties among Ukrainian Jews fearful of rising xenophobia and racially motivated violence they say is inspired by Svoboda, a party with neo-Nazi roots and a penchant for thuggery. State Department report this month singled out Ukraine, along with Hungary and Greece, as places of “concern” because of growing anti-Semitic parties. Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry documented just 15 cases of anti-Semitic violence in 2012. But the behavior of some Svoboda politicians risks changing that, some Ukrainian Jews worry.

He was succeeded by Viktor Yanukovych, the man whom protestors accused five years earlier of election fraud.“They know anti-Semitism is preventing the good relations they seek,” said Moshe Azman, Ukraine’s Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi.“But Svoboda is not a uniform entity and I’m not sure the leaders control the rank and file.” Feldman, an energetic businessman, lawmaker and founder of the Kyiv Interfaith Forum, says Svoboda has helped erode the shame associated with open expressions of anti-Semitism and other ethnic hatreds.At the appointed moment, they remove their windbreakers to reveal white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beat the kikes.” Their jackets carry the name of Svoboda, the ultranationalist Ukrainian political party. Angry protestors rip at the T-shirts, but the Svoboda-labeled men give as good as they get.

One of the men beats Victor Smal, a lawyer and human rights activist, so savagely that he is rendered barely recognizable.His interfaith forum, which each year brings together hundreds of clerics from five faiths, was marred for the first time this year by a minor assault on a Muslim participant outside the conference.