A major wave of antisemitism is feared in Russia and Ukraine in 2009 as their economies begin to bear the full brunt of the global financial crisis.
The warning comes from senior officials in local Jewish organisations and from the Israeli government.
One veteran emissary from a major Jewish body was especially worried.
“It is estimated that at least 60 of the 100 richest businessmen in Ukraine are identified as being Jewish,” he said. “Many of them own major industrial conglomerates which own the companies that will be firing tens of thousands of workers. Given the antisemitic currents already prevailing, I find it hard to believe that there won’t be those who seek to blame the Jews. And the [President Victor] Yushchenko government, which is extremely shaky as it is, will do little as it will be happy for anything that will deflect the blame from it.”
Ukraine recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor famine, in which millions perished. At the state event, speakers listed other genocides but omitted the Shoah.
Last year, Mr Yushchenko visited Israel and pledged to fight antisemitism, but Ukraine’s attempts to join Nato and the EU have since been rebuffed and Mr Yushchenko seems unwilling to challenge nationalistic elements.
Russia is also hurting badly, due to the global crisis and the fall in oil prices, but there observers believe that there will be a higher level of official response to any rise in antisemitism.
“In these periods, there is a rise in crime and violence which usually also goes in the direction of antisemitism,” says a senior Israeli diplomat, involved in Jewish affairs in the Former Soviet Union. “In Ukraine it could be a lot worse. There is little anyone can do to prepare for this, besides better protecting Jewish institutions, since the authorities will do everything possible to make sure that this isn’t seen as antisemitism. We don’t have an address in the Ukrainian government and the local Jews are very worried.”