Staff Writer   Ukrainian Weekly   11-Jan-1987   Ben-Meir hangs up twice

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Knesset member tells Ukrainians to ask forgiveness for crimes

JERSEY CITY, N.J. A deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, has stated that Ukrainians as a nation are collectively responsible for the crimes of individuals against Jews.

Deputy Speaker Dov B. Ben-Meir wrote, in a letter to Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine, "... since the days of Bogdan Chelmenitzky [sic; the reference is to Bohdan Khmelnytsky, hetman of Ukraine, 1648-1657], the Jewish people has a long score to settle with the Ukrainian people."

The letter, dated October 1986, was written in response to a letter AHRU sent to all 120 Knesset members regarding the case of John Demjanjuk, the 66-year-old former Cleveland autoworker accused of being "Ivan the Terrible."

AHRU had expressed its concern about whether Mr. Demjanjuk, who is on trial in Israel for Nazi war crimes, will receive a fair trial despite extensive pre-trial publicity about the case.  AHRU received several responses from members of the Knesset, but none like that of Mr. Ben-Meir.

The deputy speaker, who is a member of the Labor Party, noted that anti-Semitism in the USSR is concentrated in Ukraine and that uncounted numbers of Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazi regime, especially in the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

He also stated:

During more than four decades, not a single word was heard from your organization in favor of the human rights of Ukrainians of the Jewish faith who were shot, burned, gassed by your fellow countrymen.  And it is only the "worry" whether the Israeli press will by its publicity prejudice the objectivity of Israeli justice that keeps you awake at nights!

Mr. Ben-Meir then concluded his letter with the following:

To you and your friends, I suggest that you go to church not only on Sunday, but also every day of the week, and that you kneel there until bleeding at the knees in asking forgiveness for what your people has done to ours.

In an effort to verify that the letter had indeed been written by Mr. Ben-Meir, The Ukrainian Weekly tried for two and a half weeks to contact the Knesset member by phone.  Finally, on Tuesday, January 6, (at 6 a.m. Eastern time), The Weekly did reach Mr. Ben-Meir in Israel.  After the caller, editor Roma Hadzewycz, identified herself as phoning from The Ukrainian Weekly in the United States, Mr. Ben-Meir stated, "I don't want to speak with you," and hung up.

After redialing and again reaching Mr. Ben-Meir, The Weekly editor said, "Mr. Ben-Meir, I just want to ask you one question."  The Knesset member interrupted, saying, "I told you I don't want to speak with you.  I don't want to answer any questions."  He then hung up on his caller the second time.

Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine, headed by Bozhena Olshaniwsky, has responded to what it termed Mr. Ben-Meir's "blatantly Ukrainophobic views" with an open letter.  AHRU sent copies of the open letter to all members of the Knesset, along with a letter addressed to each Knesset member asking that the parliament censure Mr. Ben-Meir for his statements.

Copies of all correspondence between AHRU and Mr. Ben-Meir and members of the Knesset were sent also to major U.S. news media.

[For the full texts of these letters, see page 5.]

According to information provided by the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, Mr. Ben-Meir is one of many deputy speakers of the Knesset, a title that has little significance except on those occasions when a deputy speaker is in fact substituting for the speaker, or chairman, of the Knesset.

Mr. Ben-Meir was born in Poland and is between 57 and 59 years old.  He is an economist and author of pamphlets on social, economic and administrative subjects, and is deputy mayor of Tel-Aviv.

Mr. Ben-Meir is a member of the Labor Party, one of Israel's two major parties.  The Labor Party controls 43 seats in the Knesset, while the other dominant party, the conservative Likud, has 41.  The remaining 36 seats are held by members of l3 other parties some of which are so small that they occupy only one seat.