(JTA) – Over the past few weeks, tributes to Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in North America have led to local and international upheaval.
On Tuesday, the speaker of the Canadian House of Commons resigned after saluting a 98-year-old man who had fought for one such unit, commonly referred to as as the Waffen SS or SS Galichina. And in Philadelphia, a controversy surrounding the same unit played out on a smaller scale: Local Jewish groups protested a monument to the SS division in a Catholic cemetery in the suburb of Elkins Park, and local Catholic leaders covered it up.
But in a third instance where the same SS unit is being honored, the local Jewish reaction has been far more muted. After learning about an SS Galichina memorial in a Detroit suburb, that city’s Jewish Community Relations Council told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it did not intend to make a fuss over it.
“I believe we could use this to positively have a dialogue with our Ukrainian neighbors, but don’t think it would be worth it to make a statement of condemnation or asking for its removal,” Daniel Bucksbaum of the Detroit JCRC/AJC said in an email.
The memorials in Detroit and Philadelphia, and the nonagenarian’s Nazi past, were all first reported by Lev Golinkin, a writer for the Forward. He has cataloged monuments to Nazis and their collaborators around the world, and in the Detroit case, detailed a memorial “dedicated to Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American veterans” on a private bank in the suburb of Warren. Veterans of SS Galichina are named as one of the monument’s sponsors — though they’re referred to by a different name on the structure.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who heads the Detroit JCRC/AJC, said he was developing a relationship with the local Ukrainian community and said “discussing history and past antisemitism will definitely be part of this process.” But he said he would be hesitant to press the issue of the SS Galichina memorial at present, in part because of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.
“I believe the time is now to support Ukraine, and defending itself against Russia,” Lopatin wrote in an email. He added, “There certainly is a lot to do, but there is a right time for everything and also a wrong time for everything.”
There are existing ties between the local Ukrainian and Jewish communities. Lopatin has attended ceremonies commemorating the Holodomor, the Soviet-imposed famine that caused millions of Ukrainians to starve to death in the 1930s (and which some far-right Ukrainians blame on the Jews). A Ukrainian museum in Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb with significant Ukrainian, Polish and Yemeni populations, has also offered to host an upcoming exhibit of Yemeni Jewish art.
Lopatin also believes the intentions behind the Warren memorial may not be sinister. “There is a difference between honoring a genocidal regiment or saying that their veterans gave [money] for a general memorial for Ukrainian Veterans,” he told JTA.
Golinkin, however, called the Detroit Jewish groups’ silence “shameful.”
“It’s astounding that, during a global surge of white supremacy and Holocaust distortion, Jewish organizations in Detroit are electing to remain silent about a monument to the SS in their city,” the writer told JTA.
The mayor of Warren, James Fouts, told the Forward that “there’s not even a minute chance that we would support anything like this,” but added, “I don’t think we can do much for a monument on private land.”
The varying responses point to the difficulties American Jews have long faced in navigating relationships with their Ukrainian neighbors, both during Ukraine’s current war with Russia and historically. Ukraine’s allies in the West during its current conflict have been reluctant to bring up its Nazi history at the same time that Russian propaganda has tried to paint the present invasion as a war of “denazification.”
Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University who was also heavily involved in the movement to free Soviet Jewry, told JTA that many of the same issues were present during that movement’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It was awkward,” Sarna said. He recalled that Jewish activists of that era broke bread with Ukrainian nationalists, who were also opposed to the Soviets. The Jewish activists were pushing for the USSR to allow Jews to emigrate, while the Ukrainian activists protested that the Soviet Union had robbed their country of independence.
“There was an effort to explain, but it was difficult,” Sarna said. Ukrainians had tried to get the Jewish community to appear at celebrations honoring General Roman Shukhevych, who fought in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army alongside Nazi forces. “It served as a reminder that, yes, there was a common enemy in those days, the Soviet Union. But on the other hand, there was also a lot of distinctive history that precluded too close a tie.”
Local Jewish leaders’ reactions to the Philadelphia monument were far more vocal. Soon after the Forward identified a three-decade-old monument depicting the insignias of the SS Galichina division in a Catholic cemetery in the suburb of Elkins Park, the local Jewish federation condemned it.
That led other Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, to issue their own condemnations. Ukrainians should “recognize that this cannot remain,” the AJC said. (Lopatin’s group is affiliated with the AJC but in this case is departing from the national organization’s approach.)
Soon, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, which operates the cemetery, covered up the memorial, announcing on Facebook that it would pursue community discussions “in order to prevent vandalism and with the goal of conducting an objective dialogue with sensitivity to all concerned.”
Yet when it comes to the Philadelphia memorial, not all Jews are aligned in opposition. A controversial Ukrainian Jewish communal organization has voiced support for the monument.
“Indication that the monument must be dismantled ‘as soon as possible’ is inconsistent with a format for discussions on historical subjects in the twenty-first century,” Vaad of Ukraine said in a statement, alleging that some of “the published articles” about the monument “resemble KGB falsifications.”
Leaders of the group, which partners with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an aid group, and claims to represent the interests of more than 250 Ukrainian Jewish groups, say they have not seen evidence that “the soldiers in whose memory this monument was raised thirty years ago” were involved in war crimes.
Vaad of Ukraine has come under fire in the past for defending Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, and for claiming in 2018 that Russia was manipulating U.S. efforts to condemn Ukraine for honoring those same Nazi-affiliated figures. Dozens of other Ukrainian Jewish organizations have stated that the group and its leaders “do not represent all Ukrainian Jews.”
Javier Milei cites Hanukkah story, gives menorah to Zelensky during inauguration as Argentina’s president
(JTA) — Javier Milei invoked the story of the Maccabees in his inaugural address as Argentina’s president on Sunday, extending the right-wing populist’s prominent fascination with Judaism as he celebrated his own improbable victory.
“It is not by chance that this assumption takes place in the holiday of Hanukkah, the festival of light, and that the same celebrates the true essence of freedom,” Milei said during his speech on the steps of the parliament building in Buenos Aires. “The war of the Maccabees is the symbol of the victory of the weak over the powerful, of the few over the many, of the light over darkness and overall of the truth over untruth.”
Milei, 53, defied expectations when he was elected last month. A self-declared “anarcho-capitalist” who was the most right-wing of the five candidates, he ascended rapidly over the last year as he assailed the outgoing government, saying that its policies had fueled unemployment and inflation.
He delivered his speech with his back to the country’s lawmakers, in a break with tradition allowing him to face a large rally outside the parliament building.
Toward the tail of his speech warning Argentineans to prepare for a difficult economic reforms, he said he recalled how he and his now-vice president, Victoria Villaruel, had initially been told that their two-year-old political party, Freedom Advances, would have little influence.
“We were told we couldn’t do anything because we were only two in 257 congressmen,” he said. “And I also remember that my answer that day was a quote from the Book of Maccabees, 3:19, that goes: It is not the size of the army that victory in battle depends on, but strength comes from heaven.”
The speech was in keeping with Milei’s unusual relationship with Judaism. The non-Jewish economist has been studying with an Argentinean rabbi and has said he is interested in converting, though he says he does not see the role of president as compatible with Jewish observance. He visited the grave of the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in New York City in his first trip abroad after being elected and has vowed to make Israel — where he promised to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — his first foreign destination as president.
At campaign rallies, Milei has often walked on stage to the sound of a shofar, and in one of his final public appearances before the election, Milei was seen waving an Israeli flag among a large crowd in Rosario.
One Israeli flag was visible amid the sea of Argentinean flags at his speech in footage of the inaugural event broadcast to Argentineans.
Milei, whose term will last four years, was flanked by world leaders, including the king of Spain; Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a left-wing critic of Israel; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist who cruised to a fourth term last year; and Ukraine’s president, Volodymr Zelensky, who was making his first trip to Latin America since Russia attacked his country in February 2022. Jair Bolsonaro, the populist leader recently unseated in Brazil, also attended.
Milei handed a menorah to Zelensky, who is Jewish, after the two leaders greeted each other warmly outside Casa Rosada, the country’s government headquarters, in a handoff captured on the live TV broadcast of the ceremony. Zelensky has embraced Milei as he has sought to build support for Ukraine in Latin America.
On Saturday night, on the eve of his inauguration, Milei met with a group of relatives of Israeli hostages kidnapped in Gaza since Oct. 7, lighting the Hanukkah candles with them and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was in the country for the inauguration.
Moroccans Demand Halt to Ties with Israel
Moroccans waving Palestinian flags took to the streets of the capital Rabat on Sunday calling on the government to cut ties with Israel in protest against Israel‘s military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Protests against Israel‘s war in Gaza have repeatedly drawn thousands of people in Morocco since the conflict began two months ago, mostly led by pan-Arab and Islamist groups.
Sunday’s march by about 3,000 protesters was the first to have been led by the PJD — Morocco’s biggest Islamist party which led the elected government from 2011 until 2021 — a sign the movement is growing more vocal in opposition.
Protesters chanted “Palestine is not for sale,” “Resistance go ahead to victory and liberation” and “the people want an end to normalization,” referring to the policy of Morocco and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel.
Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Hamas terrorists burst across the fence on Oct. 7 and went on a rampage through Israeli towns, gunning down families in their homes, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages.
Since then, Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza say thousands of people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign, although experts have cast doubt on the reliability of casualty figures coming out of Gaza.
Morocco agreed to strengthen ties with Israel in 2020, under a deal brokered by the US administration under then President Donald Trump that also included Washington recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Despite their policy of normalizing ties with Israel, Moroccan authorities have said they continue to back the creation of a Palestinian state and have urged a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the protection of all civilians there.
Islamist and leftist parties and groups in Morocco have increasingly spoken out against the normalization policy since the start of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7.
Protesters on Sunday also called for a boycott of brands they accuse of supporting Israel.
“We call on Morocco to end diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Ahmed El Yandouzi, as he was queuing to sign a petition with a Palestinian scarf around his neck.
Although Morocco and Israel have not yet completed the process of setting up full embassies in each other’s countries as they agreed to do, they have moved closer together, signing a defense cooperation pact.
The PJD was in office when Morocco agreed the normalization deal with Israel, with its then leader Saad Dine El Otmani signing it as prime minister, but the policy was ultimately set by King Mohammed, who sets overall strategy.
The new PJD leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, has said signing the agreement was a mistake.
The royal court has previously asked the PJD to stop criticizing Morocco’s ties with Israel.
Violence Escalates Between Israel, Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Violence escalated at Lebanon’s border with Israel on Sunday as the terrorist group Hezbollah launched explosive drones and powerful missiles at Israeli positions and Israeli air strikes rocked several towns and villages in south Lebanon.
Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have been trading fire since the war in Gaza erupted two months ago, in their worst hostilities since a 2006 conflict. The violence has largely been contained to the border area.
Israeli attacks in south Lebanon included air strikes on the town of Aitaroun which destroyed and damaged numerous houses, Lebanon’s National News Agency said. It did not say if there were any casualties.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah, in a statement sent to Reuters, said Israeli air strikes were a “new escalation” to which the group was responding with new types of attacks, be it “in the nature of the weapons (used) or the targeted sites.”
The Israeli army earlier said “suspicious aerial targets” had crossed from Lebanon and two were intercepted. Two Israeli soldiers were moderately wounded and a number of others lightly injured from shrapnel and smoke inhalation, it said.
Israeli fighter jets carried out “an extensive series of strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanese territory,” it said. Sirens sounded in Israel at several locations at the border.
In Beirut, residents saw what appeared to be two warplanes streaking across a clear blue sky, leaving vapor trails behind them.
Hezbollah statements say its attacks aim to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Ali Damoush said in a speech on Sunday the group would continue in its effort to “exhaust the enemy, and will not stop unless the aggression against Gaza and Lebanon stops.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Beirut would be turned “into Gaza” if Hezbollah started an all-out war.
In one of several attacks announced by Hezbollah on Sunday, the group said it had launched the explosive drones at an Israeli command position near Ya’ara. In another, Hezbollah said it had fired Burkan (Volcano) missiles, which carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives.
Israeli air strikes were also reported on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Yaroun, not far from the location of another of the Israeli positions Hezbollah said it had targeted on Sunday.
Those air strikes broke windows of houses, shops and a school in the nearby village of Rmeich, Toni Elias, a priest in Rmeich, told Reuters by phone.
Violence at the border has killed more than 120 people in Lebanon, including 85 Hezbollah fighters and 16 civilians. In Israel, the hostilities have killed seven soldiers and four civilians.
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