Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in Ukraine, Dec. 2017.

Today, December 17, Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation synagogue, plus Holy Blossom Temple (where I attended religious school) hosted a talk by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland. 

She was feted because she is a friend of Israel and the Jewish community. But it’s her other friends we need to worry about. Freeland supports Ukraine and its government wholeheartedly. However, less than nine months ago, 40 Israeli human rights activists filed a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice demanding an end to Israeli arms sales to Ukraine, as reported in Israel’s daily newspaper, Haaretz, in July.

The Israeli human rights community argued that the weapons go to forces that openly espouse a neo-Nazi ideology. Part of Ukraine’s armed forces, the right-wing Azov militia, formed in 2014, uses these weapons. Human rights groups maintain that militia members are suspected of war crimes, torture and sexual violence.

The Azov militia boasts more than 3,000 members who use the Nazi salute and carry swastikas and SS insignias, according to Haaretz. Some openly admit that they have neo-Nazi sympathies and deny the Holocaust. The militia grew out of the now defunct openly neo-Nazi group Patriot of Ukraine. Its founder, Andriy Biletsky, once a leader of Patriot of Ukraine, is now a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

As Haaretz reports, Biletsky has said, “Our nation’s historic mission at this critical juncture is to lead the final march of the white race towards its survival. This is a march against sub-humans who are led by the Semite race.”

Another member of the Ukrainian parliament responded to Ukraine’s “Jewish problem” by publicly declaring that “in the government there is non-Ukrainian blood — this must be addressed.”

On May 2, 2018, right-wing groups, including Azov, marched through Odessa. Their leaders declared that Odessa belonged to Ukrainians, not Jews, and promised to rid the city of Jews. This happened while the Ukrainian administration tried to deny Ukraine’s role in the Holocaust. Poland’s role in the Holocaust has been played down or denied with the support of Israel’s government. In Ukraine the rise in anti-Semitic incidents such as attacks on Jews and Jewish memorial sites, and attacks on journalists, Roma and members of the LGBTQ community, can be attributed to the rise of Azov. 

As a Jew, my question is: will Freeland ever deliver a stern rebuke to Ukraine or Poland, similar to the one she delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the “severe repression of human rights” by Russian forces which occupied and annexed Crimea? 

Some Canadian political pundits call Freeland the Honourable Minister for Ukraine. That fits. 

Judy Haiven is a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She is a retired Professor of Management at Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax, N.S

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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