BBG Watch Commentary

Flag of IsraelConsidering insessant propaganda from the Kremlin-controlled media describing anti-Yanukovych protesters and the new Ukrainian government as “Nazis” and “Jew-haters,” one would think that when prominent Jewish leaders in Ukraine publish a full-page letter as a paid ad in The New York Times, protesting to President Putin against these propaganda claims as baseless and pointing instead to growing anti-Semitism in Russia, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) would offer at least a short news item.

VOA did not, neither on its main English-language news website nor on its Russian and Ukrainian websites, according to an online search conducted Friday afternoon. There has been, however, an expansion of Ukraine and Russia related news coverage, especially by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also funded by U.S. taxpayers and also managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

See: BBG Networks Continue To Increase Coverage In Ukraine And Crimea, BBG Press Release, March 28, 2014.

On Thursday, many international media outlets had reported on the New York Times ad-protest letter to Putin from Ukrainian Jewish leaders. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency had this report: Ukrainian Jews slam Putin in full-page ad in New York Times, JTA, 11:33am, March 27, 2014. Also see: War of words between Ukrainian and Russian Jews heats up, Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2014.

Jewish leaders challenged President Putin’s claim that Jews in Ukraine are under threat:

“Your certainty of the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine also does not correspond to the actual facts. It seems you have confused Ukraine with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year,” Ukrainian Jewish leaders wrote to President Putin. (…)

“Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin), we are quite capable of protecting our rights in a constructive dialogue and in cooperation with the government and civil society of a sovereign, democratic, and united Ukraine. We strongly urge you not to destabilize the situation in our country and to stop your attempts of delegitimizing the new Ukrainian government,” Ukrainian Jewish leader wrote in an open letter published in The New York Times.

Earlier in March, the U.S. State Department had refuted President Putin’s claims with regard to Jews in Ukraine in a document titled: “President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine.”

Mr. Putin says: There have been mass attacks on churches and synagogues in southern and eastern Ukraine.

(U.S. State Department) The Facts: Religious leaders in the country and international religious freedom advocates active in Ukraine have said there have been no incidents of attacks on churches. All of Ukraine’s church leaders, including representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, have expressed support for the new political leadership, calling for national unity and a period of healing. Jewish groups in southern and eastern Ukraine report that they have not seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

Voice of America English news website had only a very short news item on the State Department’s document. VOA report did not mention the point about Jews in Ukraine, although it included a link to the State Department website.

It should be pointed out that while VOA Russian and Ukrainian services have not reported on the New York Times letter, they have provided far better coverage of the issue than the VOA worldwide English service. VOA Russian Service had reported earlier on statements of the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich and Crimean Majlis representative in the United States and a member of the International Congress of Crimean Tatars Ayla Bakkalli. Both refuted propaganda claims advanced by President Putin and the Kremlin-controlled media.

See: Представители евреев и татар Украины: не нужно нас спасать! (Representatives of the Jews and Tatars in Ukraine : no need to save us!), Voice of America Russian Service, March 14, 2014. But sources told BBG Watch that neither VOA Russian nor VOA Ukrainian service can sustain such coverage and report on every news story worth reporting on without being given additional resources.

Voice of America is badly managed and its news coverage of Ukraine has been spotty, especially in English, although on some coverage of main news stories has improved somewhat due to constant criticism from the dogwatch website BBG Watch, complaints from their own VOA journalists, and concerns expressed by members of the oversight Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Overall management of staff resources and news reporting, however, has not improved. Some of it has to do with insufficient funding, but most of the confusion and spotty reporting are a result of poor leadership and lack of an effective executive editor, sources told BBG Watch.

VOA English news webite had posted before reports referencing official Russian media claims that the new Ukrainian government is “fascist” without, in our opinion, providing sufficient counter-claims and balance.

Voice of America Charter, which is public law in the U.S., requires balance in news reporting and places emphasis on reporting U.S. news. The letter from Ukrainian Jewish leaders to President Putin published in The New York Times provided the balance that was lacking in some earlier news reports on the VOA English website, but Voice of America ignored the letter.

This does not in any way minimize the fact that VOA Ukrainian Service has done an outstanding job of reporting on Ukraine and U.S. reactions, especially in its television program (management canceled its radio program some time ago), but VOA executives failed to provide the service with sufficient addition resources to promptly update its website and social media pages, or to report on less prominent but equally important news stories in response to the propaganda from the Kremlim and its media outlets. BBG Watch had reported earlier that the Service was unable to update its website and social pages sometimes for many hours due to staff shortages.

Many excellent VOA journalists are frustrated with the management for mishandling news coverage. Some have left the organization unable to continue to work under ineffective and hostile managers. Veteran correspondents were replaced with poorly-paid and exploited contractors who are not provided with training and editorial guidance. Editorial guidance is missing in general, with many VOA employees and contractors assuming that the management wants more reporting on Justin Bieber or more production of videos such as the one targeting teenage Pakistanis with a blood-thirsty zombie character dressed as Uncle Sam.

We are quite sure that ignoring the protest letter of Ukrainian Jewish leaders to Putin in The New York Times by Voice of America was, however, not intentional. We believe it is a result of mismanagement and insufficient resources.

But, not surprisingly, both RT and Voice of Russia also ignored the letter of Ukrainian Jewish leaders. We believe these media outlets controlled by the Kremlin did it quite intentionally — the letter contradicted their false propaganda claims.

Since RT and Voice of Russia did not report on the letter, but were reporting false propaganda claims about Ukrainian Jews in English and in other languages, Voice of America had an even greater obligation to mention the letter on its news websites, in English and in other languages.

Here are some examples of RT reporting with references to Jews in Ukraine:

Massive anti-Maidan rallies grip eastern Ukraine as residents demand referendum
… presence of NATO troops in Ukraine and addressed Crimeans, asking to … the ethnic cleansing of Poles, Jews, and Russians. OUN was …

‘Pushed to leave’: Packing moods among Ukraine’s Jewish minority amidst far-right rise
… the rise in Ukraine’s Jewish minority, RT’s Paula Slier reports from Kiev. There are about a hundred thousand Jews living in the …

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), another U.S. taxpayer-funded media entity managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has reported extensively on the Kremlin’s propaganda and refuted many of its claims in fact-based journalistic reports in Ukrainian, Russian, English and in other languages. One of the signatories of the letter to President Putin published in an ad in The New York Times is Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov who contributes reports and commentaries to RFE/RL.

A few of RFE/RL reports dealing with Putin’s propaganda have been re-posted on VOA websites. But RFE/RL does not specialize in news reporting from the United States and may have also missed the letter from Ukrainian Jewish leaders in The New York Times. It was Voice of America’s job to report on this letter.

Open letter of Ukrainian Jews to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin

Mar. 26, 2014

Mr. President!

We are Jewish citizens of Ukraine: businessmen, managers, public figures, scientists and scholars, artists and musicians. We are addressing you on behalf of the multi-national people of Ukraine, Ukraine’s national minorities, and on behalf of the Jewish community.

You have stated that Russia wants to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea and all of Ukraine and that these rights have been flouted by the current Ukrainian government. Historically, Ukrainian Jews are also mostly Russian-speaking. Thus, our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.

We do not believe that you are easy to fool. You consciously pick and choose lies and slander from the massive amount of information about Ukraine. And you know very well that (former Ukrainian president) Viktor Yanukovych’s statement concerning the time after the latest treaty had been signed that “…Kyiv is full of armed people who have begun to trash buildings, places of worship, churches. Innocent people have begun to suffer. People have simply been robbed and killed in the street…” are lies, from the first word to the very last.

The Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are not being humiliated or discriminated against their civil rights have not been limited. Meanderings about “forced Ukrainianization” and “bans on the Russian language” that have been so common in Russian media are on the heads of those who invented them. Your certainty of the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine also does not correspond to the actual facts. It seems you have confused Ukraine with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.

Right now, after Ukraine has survived a difficult political crisis, many of us have wound up on different sides of the barricades. The Jews of Ukraine, as all ethnic groups, are not absolutely unified in their opinion towards what is happening in the country. But we live in a democratic country and can afford a difference of opinion.

They have tried to scare us (and are continuing their attempts) with “Bandera followers” and “Fascists” attempting to wrest away the helm of Ukrainian society, with imminent Jewish pogroms. Yes, we are well aware that the political opposition and the forces of social protests who have secured changes for the better are made up of different groups. They include nationalistic groups, but even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior. And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government – which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.

We have a great mutual understanding with the new government, and a partnership is in the works. There are quite a few national minority representatives in the Cabinet of Ministers: the Minister of Internal Affairs is Armenian, the Vice Prime Minister is a Jew, and two ministers are Russian. The newly-appointed governors of Ukraine’s region are also not exclusively Ukrainian.

Unfortunately, we must admit that in recent days stability in our country has been threatened. And this threat is coming from the Russian government, namely – from you personally. It is your policy of inciting separatism and crude pressure placed on Ukraine that threatens us and all Ukrainian people, including those who live in Crimea and the Ukrainian south-east. South-eastern Ukrainians will soon see that for themselves.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, we highly value your concern about the safety and rights of Ukrainian national minorities. But we do not wish to be “defended” by sundering Ukraine and annexing its territory. We decisively call for you not to intervene in internal Ukrainian affairs, to return the Russian armed forces to their normal fixed peacetime location, and to stop encouraging pro-Russian separatism.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, we are quite capable of protecting our rights in a constructive dialogue and in cooperation with the government and civil society of a sovereign, democratic, and united Ukraine. We strongly urge you not to destabilize the situation in our country and to stop your attempts of delegitimizing the new Ukrainian government.

Josef Zissels, Chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine (VAAD) Ukraine, Executive Vice President of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine
Alexander Suslensky, D.Sc., Vice President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, Businessman
Andrei Adamovsky, First Vice President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, member of the “Hillel” Jewish Student organization Observation Council (citizen of Russia)
Rabbi Alex Dukhovny, Head Rabbi of the Ukrainian Progressive Judaism communities
Rabbi Reuven Stamov, Head Rabbi of the Ukrainian Traditional Judaism communities
Alexander Paskhaver, Member of the VAAD Ukraine Coordination Council, Economist
Leonid Finberg, Director of the NaUKMA Center for the Studies of History and Culture of Eastern European Jewry, VAAD Ukraine Vice Chairman
Anatoliy Podolsky, Director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, Vice Chairman of VAAD Ukraine
Igor Kuperberg, Chairman of the Zionist Federation of Ukraine, Vice Chairman of VAAD Ukraine
Semen Belman, Vice President of the Jewish Council of Ukraine, President of the Chernihiv Jewish Community
Alexander Gaidar, Leader of the Union of Ukrainian Progressive Judaism Religious Communities
Vyacheslav Likhachev, CNCU Chief expert in monitoring and analyzing xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Member of the VAAD Ukraine Coordination Council (citizen of Russia and Israel)
Michael Gold, Editor-in-chief of the VAAD Ukraine newspaper “Hadashot”
Galina Haraz, Engineer (citizen of Ukraine and Israel)
Igor Turov, PhD in History, Director of the Jewish Studies Certificate Program of VAAD Ukraine, VAAD Ukraine Presidium member
Diana Gold, VAAD Ukraine Presidium member
Alexander Roitburg, Artist
Evgen Greben, Director of the “Maccabi” Jewish Cultural and Sports Society (Kyiv)
Grigoriy Pickman, “B’nai B’rith Leopolis” President
Igor Kerez, VAAD Ukraine Trustee Board member, Businessman
Artem Fedorchuk, Director of the International Center on Jewish Education and Field Studies
Igor Golfman, Publicist
Yulia Smelianska, Director, Judaica Institute (Kyiv)
Yelena Zaslavskaya, Designer
Aleksandr Elisavetskiy, Educator
• Ada Dal, Engineer
Kira Kreydarman, Psychologist
Artem Fedorchuk, Director, International Center of Jewish Education and Field Studies
Alexiy Krol, Businessman
Ihor Shchupak, PhD, Director, TKUMA Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies, Museum “Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine” (Dnipropetrovsk); Editor-in-Chief, “Premier” Publishing House (Zaporizhzhia)
Evgen Levin, English-language Teacher, Civil Activist (Kharkiv)
Larisa Kucherevskaya, Kyiv
Alfiya Shevchenko, KNGU, Kyiv
Vitaly Portnikov, Journalist, Ukraine
Leonid Vaydenfeld, Manager
Svetlana Pisareva, Center “Our Kids” for the Protection of Children in Need (Kyiv)
Mila Braginskaya, Director of International Programs, Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (Kyiv)
Boris Finkelshtein, Engineer