Jews living in Ukraine need to get out now, Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told about 100 people gathered at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington’s annual meeting.
“For the Jews who can leave, they should leave. We don’t know how this film is going to end,” Cohen said at the May 29 meeting at Kol Shalom in Rockville.
“These are thugs. These are criminals. These are anti-Semites. There is no question in my mind,” Cohen said of those fighting to end Ukraine’s sovereignty. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin continually denies involvement in the fighting currently going on, Cohen left no doubt that Putin is behind it all.
“This is clearly Russian-supported, Russian-maintained.” Of Putin’s protesting otherwise, Cohen said, “Really Mr. Putin?”
Everything came to a head in Ukraine when students began to demonstrate several months ago. Then-Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych “sent the police to beat them up. They beat them up bloody,” Cohen said. When the parents of the students joined the protests, “it became more brutal.”
“The demonstrators were not heavily armed. They did not have bullet proof vests” or large weapons. “Nevertheless, they won and Yanukovych ran.
“What did the West do? What did the United States do? Not much. We complained a lot,” Cohen said. When asked to supply truck batteries and tires, Pentagon officials replied it would take six weeks to two or three months, Cohen said. Also, the United States didn’t want to sell Ukraine any weapons, noting, President Barack “Obama didn’t want to bear any ill will.”
However, “Russia treated that as a weakness,” he added.
America should do more if it cares about preserving borders. “If Ukraine goes, it’s the end of borders. People can march in,” he said.
“The president is not engaged in it in any protracted way. I think it is a mistake. I think it is an embarrassment when Ukraine comes to us for very small things, like batteries and car tires, and we cannot supply it,” yet the United States is helping Syrians. “If we are worried about the Baltic states, we need to put a little more trip wire in the Baltics.”
Ukraine’s newly elected president, billionaire Petro Poroshenko is pro-West, according to Cohen. “He is a self-made man. He owes nothing to anybody. We hope, God willing” he will build a democratic Ukraine.
Cohen, who was born in Ukraine and speaks Russian, Hebrew and English, was quick to point out that not all Ukrainians are anti-Semitic. “There is anti-Semitism in the streets, just like there is anti-Semitism everywhere in Eastern Europe, but anti-Semitism isn’t as bad in Ukraine as they said. You find it in Poland. You find it in Ukraine. You find it in New Hampshire.”
Prior to Cohen’s speech, the JCRC installed its new board of directors, thanked President Joe Sandler for his two years of leadership and welcomed new president Michele (Cookie) Hymer Blitz, whose term begins July 1.
She said her focus during the next two years will be to expand outreach to area synagogues and young people and to keep fighting for social justice, which she said was part of a Jewish person’s DNA. She also promised to reach out to other social action groups, regardless of their religious affiliation, to both help those in need and to find partners willing to support Israel and fight anti-Semitism worldwide.
JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber welcomed the new board members. Earlier in the week, Halber received the Bridge Builder Award from the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington for his leadership in strengthening interfaith relations throughout the region.