Earlier this week, a Holocaust memorial, the wall of a Jewish cemetery, and the fence of a synagogue in Odessa were defaced with swastikas, SS symbols, and the words “Death the Jews”—and with tags indicating the graffiti was the work of members of the far-right Pravyi Sektor, or Right Sector, party.
Some were quick to seize on the graffiti—on the eve of the 70th anniversary of Odessa’s liberation from the Nazis, in 1944—as further evidence of a dangerous anti-Semitic strain emerging alongside anti-Russian politics in Ukraine since the ouster in February of Viktor Yanokovych. “Undoubtedly, the pro-Jewish atmosphere currently is much more credible in Russia than in Ukraine,” Osias Wurman, an honorary consul for Israel based in Rio, told the Voice of Russia network.
But, as with other, similar episodes, it’s impossible to know who actually painted the graffiti in Odessa—and more than a few Ukrainians, including Jewish leaders, have suggested that efforts to paint the Pravyi Sektor and its fellow right-wing party Svoboda as anti-Semitic neo-Nazis in fact stem from Russian partisans seeking to demonize the Ukrainian Euromaidan movement, which Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has characterized as anti-Semitic.
Which is why the leadership of the Pravyi Sektor moved immediately to disavow the graffiti. A senior party representative was dispatched to Odessa to meet with Rabbi Abraham Wolff, whose synagogue was vandalized, and the two were pictured today painting over the graffiti, side by side. As an 87-year-old from Dniepropetovsk asked the New York Times earlier this week, “What kind of anti-Semitism is this?” The question, of course, was rhetorical.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.