Kiev rabbi plays down neo-Nazi threat from Ukrainian nationalists

Kiev - A leading Ukrainian rabbi said on Wednesday he saw no sign of hostility toward Jews from nationalists involved in last month's uprising but was cautious on whether there could be a rise in anti-Semitic threats.

Russia brands of the some groups that helped to oust President Viktor Yanukovich as neo-Nazis, highlighting their admiration for Ukrainians who fought against the Red Army in World War Two as one of the reasons for its takeover of the majority Russian-populated Crimea.

But Moshe Reuven Azman, a senior rabbi in the capital Kiev, told a news conference he was not aware of new anti-Semitic acts since Yanukovich's fall and had not heard anti-Jewish statements from leaders of far-right parties. He cautioned against speculation on the issue being "exploited" for political ends.

"There's no big, general Ukrainian problem," Azman said, playing down some instances of Jews being attacked in the street and the firebombing of a provincial synagogue during the past few months of protests. He contrasted post-Soviet Ukraine's tolerance with "official anti-Semitism" in Soviet times.

Of newly prominent movements like the paramilitary Right Sector, active in fighting police last month, he said: "I make a distinction between nationalism and Nazism. With nationalism, you love your own people. Nazism is when you hate others.

"Unfortunately there can often be a slide into Nazism. Please God, that doesn't happen.

"Time will tell. For now there is nothing like that."

Another prominent figure among Ukraine's 200,000 Jews, the head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Edward Dolinsky, said in Jerusalem that Russian portrayals of a threat from the new authorities in Kiev were "simply lies and slander".