May 23, 1998
Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich
29 Shchekavytska Street
Dear Rabbi Bleich:
In your appearance on the 60 Minutes broadcast "The Ugly Face of Freedom" of 23 October 1994, you offered some startling testimony concerning the existence of anti-Semitism in contemporary Ukraine. In your own words:
There have been a number of physical attacks. In a small town, two elderly Jews were attacked at knifepoint and stabbed because they are Jews and because of the myth that all Jews must have money hidden in their homes. The same thing was in west Ukraine, the Carpathian region. These are very, very frightening facts, because it's — again that stereotype that we mentioned before, when that leads someone to really — to — to stab an older couple and leave them helpless, and — you know? — they left them for dead. That means that we have serious problems.
In the mind of the typical 60 Minutes viewer, your statement would constitute a substantial proportion of the Ugly Face of Freedom's evidence for the existence of anti-Semitism in today's Ukraine, and the only evidence at all for the eruption of this anti-Semitism into violence.
However, I cannot help noticing that your statement is devoid of detail. You do not disclose the names of the victims, nor the places and dates of the attacks. Nor do you indicate the source of your information — did you hear about these attacks on the radio, see them on television, read about them in the newspapers, receive personal communication, or what? This lack of detail is particularly troubling in view of four considerations:
(1) that your non-specific testimony occurred in the middle of a broadcast which was dominated by misrepresentation and disinformation;
(2) that it came from the mouth of an individual recognized in the Ukrainian community for holding anti-Ukrainian views, and for spreading anti-Ukrainian hatred, as I think I have demonstrated in my seven previous letters to you of 6Jan95, 26Sep97, 27Sep97, 28Sep97, 29Sep97, 29Sep97, and 30Sep97, in which letters are discussed such issues as that of your reciting every Saturday in the capital city of Ukraine the Khmelnytsky curse;
(3) that Jewish interests have sometimes employed exaggerated, or wholly-imagined, or even self-inflicted anti-Semitic acts to achieve such aims as heightened group cohesion or increased emigration to Israel; and
(4) that Jewish groups in Ukraine who monitor anti-Semitic incidents report being unaware of the two attacks that you describe.
Specifically with respect to point (4) above, an open letter to Morley Safer and the 60 Minutes staff from I. M. Levitas, Head of the Jewish Council of Ukraine as well as of the Nationalities Associations of Ukraine, as published in the Lviv newspaper Za Vilnu Ukrainu (For a Free Ukraine) on December 2, 1994, included the following observations, which I translate from the original Ukrainian. In the portion of the letter that I quote below, Mr. Levitas argues that the attacks you describe may have been simple robberies devoid of anti-Semitism. More importantly, Mr. Levitas provides us with reason to wonder whether the attacks occurred at all:
You reported that two Jews were robbed and beaten. This might have happened, but most likely not because they were Jews. I imagine that in Lviv, Ukrainians are also robbed (and significantly more often!), and yet nobody draws from this the sort of conclusions concerning ethnic hostility that you draw from the robbing of these two Jews.
Our Jewish Council constantly receives news concerning Jews in Ukraine, but during the past five years, we have received not a single report of anyone being beaten because he was a Jew. However, it must be admitted that such a thing may have occurred without it coming to our attention — there are plenty of miscreants in every country.
The above speculations lead us once again to the questions of whether your orientation toward the Ukrainian state is supportive or destructive, responsible or irresponsible, restrained by reason or fired by emotion. A step toward answering such questions would be taken by your responding to the points below:
(1) Would you be able to provide the names of the two sets of Jewish victims that you alluded to (that is, the victims of the knife attack, and the similar victims in the "Carpathian region"), and the places and dates of the attacks? If by "a number of attacks" you mean more than two, I would appreciate receiving such documentation for the other attacks as well. If in addition you are in possession of corroborative evidence such as videotapes, newspaper clippings, or letters, I would appreciate receiving copies of these as well.
(2) If the attacks did occur, then there follows the question of what motivated them. Mr. Levitas suggests that if the knife attack occurred, then it was more likely driven by economic motives than anti-Semitic ones. You, on the other hand offer that the attack occurred "because they are Jews," and "because of the myth that all Jews must have money hidden in their homes," and because "it's — again that stereotype." But for you to know that the motivation was predominantly anti-Semitic, the perpetrators of the attacks must have been caught and must have confessed and disclosed their motivation, unless there exists some alternative evidence pointing to the same conclusion. In any case, whatever the nature of the material that you relied upon to conclude that the two attacks had been motivated by anti-Semitism, I wonder if you would be able to provide me with a copy of it.
(3) I myself was unaware of any Ukrainian "myth that all Jews must have money hidden in their homes." This strikes me not so much as a myth believed by Ukrainians about Jews, as a myth believed by yourself about Ukrainians. I wonder if you could inform me of what evidence you have that Ukrainians are so primitive in their thinking as to entertain the fantastic myth that "all Jews must have money hidden in their homes."
If your 60 Minutes testimony concerning violent attacks on Jews by Ukrainians and motivated by anti-Semitism is true, then it behooves you to substantiate it and in so doing to remove the doubt which surrounds it. If your 60 Minutes testimony is false, then it behooves you to retract it. Either option will constitute a step toward restoring your standing in the eyes of the Ukrainian community, and in ameliorating Ukrainian-Jewish relations.
Silence is an option only if you are prepared to encourage the conclusion that you spoke impulsively and irresponsibly, and that you subsequently lacked the courage and integrity to admit your error.
cc: Ed Bradley, Jeffrey Fager, Don Hewitt, Steve Kroft, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl, Mike Wallace.