More ominous headlines from Ukraine that only leave us wondering what to believe. Winning the prize for combining sensationalism with sloppy vagueness is (surprise) the New York Post, which warns: "Jews in east Ukraine forced to register with authorities." There are two serious problems with this headline. First, if you actually read the story, nobody has been "forced" to do anything—yet, at least. The demand was made in threatening leaflets, with no attempt at enforcement. Second, given the confused situation in east Ukraine, it is completely ambiguous who is indicated by the word "authorities." The "official" Urkainian government, or the Russian-backed separatists who claim to be in control? This is a rather critical point, given all the Russian propaganda about how the Kiev government is "fascist" and "anti-Semitic."
Turkish Prime Miniter Tayyip Erdogan's banning of YouTube is making more headlines than the extraordinary leak the prompted the move. Posted to YouTube anonymously, it appears to show Turkey's intelligence chief and cabinet members discussing a possible attack on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Sultan Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan seemed to confirm the leak, telling a crowd of supporters: "They even leaked a national security meeting. This is villainous... Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?" The government said in a statement: "It is a wretched attack, an act of espionage and a very heavy crime to record and leak to the public a top secret meeting held in a place where the most delicate security issues of the state are discussed." But outrage over the leak seems intended to distract from the actual conent of the leak...
Coverage of Ukraine's newly inked deal with the International Monetary Fund is like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. Russia Today's headline is "Ukraine parliament passes austerity bill required by IMF," whereas the EU-aligned EurActiv put it: "IMF extends generous assistance to Ukraine." Forbes smarmily goes one better with "Ukraine Welcomes IMF Austerity Regime." RT tells us: "It is ordinary Ukrainians who will suffer the most under the new austerity measures as the floating national currency is likely to push up inflation, while spike in domestic gas prices will impact every household." But Reuters fleshes out the context for this a bit: "Moscow will not make it easy and Ukraine is already feeling some consequences from its break with Russia. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said...the price the country would pay for Russian gas, which accounts for over half of Ukrainian gas imports, would soar by almost 80 percent from April 1 as the seizure of Crimea had rendered a cheaper gas deal obsolete." So it seems that Russia as well as the IMF is imposing privation on Ukrainians, and is especially responsible for the spike in gas prices.
Hillel Cohen, Ukraine director of the Jewish ambulance corps Hatzalah, was stabbed the night of March 14 in Kiev by a group of men who reportedly hurled anti-Semitic slurs during the attack—making him the third Jew to be assaulted, and the second to be stabbed, in the city since January. These attacks are certainly convenient to the relentless Russian propaganda that portrays Ukraine's new leaders as fascists. At a recent press conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin warned against the "rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev." But some Ukrainian Jewish leaders think the attacks are a little too convenient. Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post the assault on Cohen was a provocation, intended as a "justification for the continuation of Russian aggression" in Crimea and to "discredit the new government of Ukraine."
In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)
This is pretty funny. Israel's progressive +972 mag reports March 7 that a delegation from the group Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation organization made up of Israeli army veterans, recently arrived in Hebron to be greeted with two prominently placed banners raised by local settlers, reading: "Palestine never existed! (And never will)". Both the banners, which were very professionally produced (no hand-painted job), were hung on sections of Shuada Street that Palestinians are barred from entering under restrictions imposed in the wake of Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre at Hebron's al-Ibrahimi Mosque.
At least 25 are reported dead and more than 240 injured in clashes that erupted when Ukrainian protesters mounted a march on parliament Feb. 18, apparently ending a "truce" that had been worked out to allow negotiations. The march took place before a scheduled debate on reinstatement of Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would rein in President Viktor Yanukovich's powers. The situation on the streets escalated as the bill was blocked by parliamentary staff who refused to register it on procedural grounds. The 2004 constitution was repealed in 2010, shortly after Yanukovich came to power, replaced by a new one granting him sweeping powers, including to appoint regional governors—a critical issue in Ukraine, with its cultural divide between the more Russian-identified east and more European-identified west. (Jurist, WP, UN News Centre, Feb. 19; BBC News, EuroNews, Feb. 18)
Days of street clashes between opponents and supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have left five dead, with scores injured or detained. The demonstrators, mostly students, blame the government for violent crime, high inflation, chronic shortages, and what they charge is repression of opponents. They are calling for Maduro to resign. The street fighting has mostly been in middle-class areas of Caracas, where it seems we are treated to the unlikely spectacle of well-heeled youth throwing Molotov cocktails at police and blocking streets with burning trash. Authorities even said a funeral procession for revered folk singer Simón Díaz, who died Feb. 19 aged 85, was held up by "violent groups" blocking roads. (Reuters, Feb. 20) Widely blamed for inciting violence is the leader of the right-wing Voluntad Popular party, Leopoldo López. CNN reported that López turned himself in Feb. 19 to face murder charges—which CNN reported the following day had been dropped. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has also been supporting the protests, but is publicly urging nonviolence. The unrest extends beyond Caracas, with the government mobilizing troops to Tachira state following protests there. Maduro has also threatened to expel CNN from the country if it does not "rectify its coverage" of the protests. (BBC News, Feb. 20)