Combating anti-Semitism, ADLs man in Europe has hands full

Consider it a bitter, bitter lesson learned: When it comes to European anti-Semitism, observers no longer shake their heads and utter, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Europe is a land of old traditions, and, unfortunately, one that is less charming than seasonal festivals or raw-milk cheeses is anti-Semitism. And while much of the continent has come to grips with its culpability in genocide, at least in the 20th century, Ukraine may be the land that self-recrimination forgot.

According to Ben Cohen, the ADL’s director of European affairs, kiosks and newsstands in modern cities like Kiev and Odessa still do a brisk business pedaling anti-Semitic materials that could have been dictated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or Hitler himself, states Cohen soberly.

Cohen, in the Bay Area last week for several speaking and fund-raising engagements, is a tall, boyish-looking man who speaks in the sort of rapid London brogue that Americans can’t help but attempt to imitate. He rattles off seven-syllable Ukranian names with all the ease and authority of M. briefing James Bond when discussing who’s who in ruling and/or fomenting anti-Semitism in the former Soviet republic.

Amazingly, an estimated 70 percent of the glut of anti-Semitic materials circulated in the nation of 47.5 million emanates from one university, the Interregional Academy for Personnel Management, or, in the Russian acronym, MAUP.

To Western eyes, the so-called academic materials spawned, printed and circulated at MAUP are grossly, cartoonishly and violently anti-Jewish.

“MAUP organized a conference last year called ‘Zionism: A Threat to World Peace.’ Among those attending were Holocaust deniers,” said Cohen.

“Worryingly, the representative of the Palestinian Authority in Ukraine was also present, as were a number of other Arab and Middle Eastern diplomats. This conference ended with a call for the deportation of Jews from Ukraine.”

MAUP publishes and distributes well-known tracts such as Henry Ford’s “The International Jew” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” as well as its own titles, one of which “holds Jews responsible for the famine which Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in the 1930s,” continued Cohen.

And the earlier reference to Ahmadinejad was no joke — MAUP has issued statements of solidarity with the Iranian president as well as granting Klan Wizard and racist politico David Duke a doctorate and teaching position.

The university, Cohen says, has been hijacked by “a cabal of anti-Semites” which would be less surprising if the rector (chancellor), Georgy Tschokin, didn’t “run the Ukrainian neo-Nazi party in his spare time.”

Which all leads to the inevitable question of what the ADL is doing about this. With Ukraine gearing up for a bid to enter the European Union, Cohen has been in contact with both the EU and all three of Ukraine’s major presidential candidates.

Ukrainian politicos are not unaware of the political albatross around the neck a fanatically anti-Semitic university would be when it comes to obtaining EU membership — yet, Cohen points out, many still maintain close ties to MAUP.

Still, he believes, progress is being made and the ADL’s concerns will be taken seriously no matter who wins the nation’s upcoming election.

More pressing to both the ADL and Ukraine’s 142,000 Jews are pleas to beef up security around Jewish institutions and crack down on violent anti-Jewish attacks. A recent synagogue attack by a knife-wielding man mirroring a Moscow attack underscores a chilling point, according to Cohen: While the governments of Ukraine and Russia drift apart, the anti-Semitic extremists in the two countries seem to be forging alliances.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.