Concerns over rising tensions in Ukraine were exacerbated Thursday by reports that leaflets were distributed in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk instructing Jewish residents to “register” with the pro-Russian militants now barricaded in a government office there, or else face consequences.
USA Today cited two foreign news agencies, one Israeli and one Ukrainian, in reporting the content of the flyers:
Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city's Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee "or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated," reported Ynet News, Israel's largest news website, and Ukraine's Donbass news agency.
Reports of the flyers elicited a strong response from world leaders and members of Congress. During a press conference in Geneva, where four-party talks on the Ukraine crisis took place Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the anti-semitic leaflets as “grotesque.”According to CBS News, Kerry said:
"In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it's grotesque," Kerry told reporters. "It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that."
What remains a mystery is the origin of the leaflets. They bear the signature of Denis Pushilin, chairman of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as the group of pro-Russia protesters currently occupying government buildings in several Eastern Ukrainian cities and purportedly backed by Russia calls itself. However, though Pushilin confirmed the flyers were distributed in Donetsk, he has denied connection to them.
It is also unclear whether the men who distributed the flyers were affiliated with the DPR or simply provocateurs. One Israeli newspaper reported Pushilin confirmed that his organization did distribute the leaflets, though ThinkProgress.org claimed that he denies the DPR’s involvement; both claim he denied connection to the flyers’ anti-semitic content, and The Daily Beast quoted him as saying it “could have been the work of provocateurs hoping to discredit the pro-Russian movement.”
Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, tweeted Thursday night that belief in the authenticity of the document was becoming scarce:
The Anti-Defamation League also said in a statement that they are skeptical about the flyer’s authenticity, though did not say what group it believed to be responsible, noting that accusations of anti-semitism have been levied at both sides of the conflict:
"We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year," said Mr. Foxman. "The perpetrators and their targets are opposing politicians and political movements, but the true victims are the Jewish communities. We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic content, but also all attempts to use anti-Semitism for political purposes."
Russian media has consistently decried the new government in Kiev, which formed after violent protests in the capital, as being led by fascists and Nazis, a claim Kiev the west have consistently found not to be true.