By Israel News Agency / JTA
Ukrainian and Israeli Jews with extensive combat and intelligence skills have formed a rapid intervention force to stop anti-Semitic attacks.
The force, which was set up in recent weeks, currently is made up of eight men who served in the Ukrainian or Israeli armies or have martial arts skills, the team’s founder, Tzvi Arieli, told JTA Thursday.
The Israel News Agency quoted security sources in Israel two weeks ago that Israel Defense Forces veterans were coordinating a potent effect to identify sources of anti-Semitic attacks in the Ukraine and take the battle to the attackers. The INA said that much of the coordination was actually coming from the Russian government in order to create Jewish support for Russian troops.
Security sources have told the INA that over 200 Israelis from special forces units in the IDF are now on the ground in the Ukraine. These forces, which are acting as private citizens, are prepared to confront Russian command and control military units and expose their activities.
The defenders are armed with baseball bats that an American donor whose family hails from Kiev sent the team, he added.
“We are trying to raise funds for bullet-proof vests which would greatly increase safety if the situation escalates,” said Arieli, a Latvia-born former soldier of a special forces unit in the Israel Defense Forces who lives in Ukraine.
Arieli said he set up the task force — which now has its own Facebook page – at the request of Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, a chief rabbi of Ukraine, following a series of anti-Semitic attacks that occurred in Kiev and beyond in the wake of a bloody revolution that erupted in November over former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s alleged corruption and perceived allegiance to Russia.
Yanukovych was ousted from power in February. The following month, Russian-backed troops seized control of the Crimean Peninsula – an area which used to belong to Ukraine and which Russia promptly annexed, claiming residents had sought Russian protection for fear of Ukrainian nationalism in the post-revolution period. Hundreds have died in clashes between different interest groups and militias.
“In talks with officials, it became clear the authorities could offer limited protection to the Jewish community so we needed to take security into our own hands,” said Arieli, who in March helped organize the medical evacuation of Ukrainians who had been wounded in fighting to Israel. He said the self-defense team was acting with Ukrainian authorities’ knowledge and consent.
Arieli also noted that Ukraine, where anti-Semitic assaults used to be rare occurrences, has seen four serious physical assaults against Orthodox Jews and two attempts to torch synagogues.
“These attacks were well-planned,” said Arieli, who blamed pro-Russian militants whom he said were trying to justify Russian aggression.
The Kremlin and some pro-Russian Ukrainians have blamed far-right Ukrainians for the attacks.
“The current reality means that even tomorrow we could find 20 people with firebombs outside the synagogue. We need to be prepared,” said Arieli.
The team is scheduled to deploy on Friday in Kiev to fend off any violence against Jewish targets during events that commemorate the May 9 surrender 69 years ago of Nazi Germany to the Russian army.