The implementation of the document should not only lead to the creation of a legislative mechanism to counter antisemitism, but also contribute to the formation of a culture of tolerance in Ukrainian society. At least this is what officials say.
Belz, Gadyach, Sadgora, Medzhibozh and, of course, Uman are the places of Ukraine favorite by pilgrims. Thousands of Hasidim come here every year, and some of them come several times a year. Do they often encounter antisemitism? According to the assurances of the Ukrainian authorities, no.
However, Israel has a different position. While President Zelensky claims that Ukraine has the lowest level of antisemitism in Europe, the Israeli ambassador says the opposite - there are more manifestations of hatred. His words are confirmed by the results of the report of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine. So, despite the fact that in 2020 there were 49 cases of antisemitism (which is 12% less than a year earlier), their nature has become more severe. Antisemitism moved to social networks and took on a more severe form - physical violence (cases of physical violence in Vinnytsia, Mariupol, Uman and near Berdyansk).
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Antisemitism, like any other manifestation of xenophobia, is primarily in the minds: in the stereotypes and perceptions of a particular nation. From this side, everything looks much worse for us. According to the ADL Global 100 Index study for the Anti-Defamation League from New York, Ukraine has one of the highest levels of antisemitism in Europe (the study took place in 2019 and it considers the indicators of the last four years: from 2015 to 2019).
More and more often, you can find news in the media about how vandals desecrated the Holocaust monument, outraged a Jewish grave, or tried to set fire to the synagogue.
At the same time, according to the director of the Ukrainian-Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky, during the years of independence not a single citizen who committed such a thing was punished as a manifestation of antisemitism. All these crimes are classified as hooliganism, damage to cultural structures, and so on. And all because of Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which does not work in practice, which should punish manifestations of intolerance and incitement to hostility (only about 5% of such cases reach the court). That is, there really is no de jure antisemitism in Ukraine.
Bill No. 5109 "On Preventing and Countering Antisemitism" is intended to change this state of affairs, thereby fulfilling one of the conditions on the way to the European community. (The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) approved a working definition of antisemitism back in 2016, and the EU Parliament adopted the definition a year later).
"The Jewish community of Ukraine for about 30 years advocated the adoption of such a law and for amendments to Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which actually did not work. This is a sign of historical justice. After all, Ukraine is a country where one and a half million Ukrainian Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust. In fact, 90% of those Jews who ended up with us at the time of the occupation were exterminated, including because of antisemitism, "says Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian-Jewish Committee, in a commentary to 112ua.tv.
What the letter of the law says
The bill defines antisemitism and also prohibits its manifestations. So, according to the adopted document, manifestations of antisemitism are:
- conscription, concealment or justification of killing or harming persons of Jewish origin,
- making false statements, hateful speech about persons of Jewish origin;
- denial of the fact of persecution and mass extermination of Jews during World War II (Holocaust);
- production, distribution of any materials containing anti-Semitic statements;
- public use of materials, symbols and images of anti-Semitic content.
For such manifestations of hatred of Jews, an 8-year term in jail is threatened, depending on the severity of the crime.
They will also punish for deliberate damage, destruction or desecration of buildings belonging to persons of Jewish origin, desecration of their graves, etc.
Indistinct tolerance in business
You can always look at three things: how the fire burns, how the water flows, and how the MPs are struggling not to call Jews Jews, instead resorting to the euphemism "person of Jewish origin." The letter of the law does not forgive such ambiguities in wording - there is a risk that a loophole will be found and the perpetrator will not be punished. And there are many such inaccuracies in the new law.
In particular, the law says that they will be punished for "calling, concealing or justifying murder or harm to persons of Jewish origin." And this despite the fact that in the Ukrainian Jewish community there are many of those who are not Jewish by origin, but joined the community through mixed marriages, or by accepting conversion (conversion of a non-Jew to Judaism).
How any attacks in their direction will be punished was not specified in the law. It is also unclear how it will be found out whether the person is of Jewish or any other origin. With this, according to experts, many questions will arise.
"It will be impossible to apply such a wording, since we have no nationalities, they were excluded, and it is not clear how such a person will be determined," lawyer Rostislav Kravets said in a comment to 112ua.tv.
Moreover, even the citizens of Israel have problems with determining the origin. After all, the country does not recognize everyone as Jews. A lot of questions often come up when it comes to permission to marry in a synagogue. By the way, nationality in Judaism is determined by the mother.
However, the legislators allegedly reinsured themselves with the clause "intolerance towards persons of non-Jewish origin who were identified as persons of Jewish origin." For this, punishment is also provided.
So, if the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance firmly says that antisemitism is a negative attitude towards Jews as an ethnic and (or) religious community, as well as towards individuals on the basis of their real or imaginary belonging to this community, then in Ukrainian legislation it is sounds blurry: "A certain perception of Jews, which is expressed as hatred of Jews." What is "certain perception" also remains a mystery.
The fact that the law deals with manifestations against people, as well as against institutions, synagogue buildings, etc., is also alarming. According to experts, statements related to religion, that is, to Judaism, fall outside the scope of this definition. Despite criticism, the paragraph was not edited after the first reading.
“For example, the statement“ Judaism is a misanthropic religion and should be prohibited ”, according to this law, is not anti-Semitic,” Vyacheslav Likhachev, head of the Monitoring Group for the Rights of National Minorities in Ukraine, said in an interview.
But this is not the most interesting thing either. The explanatory note to the law says that it should be the first step towards effectively overcoming racism, xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination in society, as it should be in a democratic country. It follows from this that we will also prohibit all other forms of xenophobia pointwise. That is, first we will deal with anti-Semitism, then with xenophobia towards the Roma people, then we will deal with Islamophobia and soon we will reach Ukrainian and Russophobia.
"The Criminal Code contains a number of articles that provide for punishment for such crimes. The norms of the law must be complied with, otherwise tomorrow we will separately protect Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and so on. As for me, this is all hype and creating the appearance of legislative activity," says the lawyer Rostislav Kravets.
Moreover, according to him, the law violates the Constitution, because everyone should be equal in the law and in the court.
Article 161 of the Criminal Code "Violation of the equality of citizens depending on their race, nationality, religious beliefs, disability and other grounds" punishes in fact for the same as the adopted law.
“In fact, it would be much more useful if Ukraine entered the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, where it has long been awaited, and assumed certain obligations. This is much more important both from the point of view of image and from the point of view of symbolic responsibility than the adoption of such non-working declarations," Vyacheslav Likhachev sums up.