Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact: Kerry statement that Ukrainian officials requiring Jews to register is false

The statement

"In the last couple of days, notices were sent (by officials in Ukraine) to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews."

Secretary of State John Kerry, Thursday in a speech in Geneva

The ruling

On Facebook and Twitter, the story caused people to fear the history of the Holocaust was repeating itself.

It seems to have originated in Donetsk, a region and a city in eastern Ukraine. On April 7, pro-Russian activists took control of Donetsk's government building. Almost two weeks later, USA Today reported, "Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine."

Citing an Israeli news article, USA Today reported that Jews emerging from a synagogue in Donetsk on April 14 were handed pamphlets asking them to "register" with pro-Russian militants. If Jewish adults refused to register and pay a $50 fee, they'd be forced out of the country.

On the same day the story appeared, Kerry mentioned the notice in his speech. We reached out to Kerry's office for evidence, but they pointed us back to his remarks.

Almost immediately, there were signs that the fliers weren't coming from any kind of authority.

The separatist whose signature allegedly appears on the flier — Donetsk People's Republic Chairman Denis Pushilin, leader of the pro-Russian militants — denied any connection to it.

Reporters on the ground quickly found that no one was actually being registered.

PolitiFact exchanged emails with Ari Shapiro, an NPR international correspondent reporting from Donetsk, who said there is a real flier, but it went ignored until the media caught on. Shapiro himself went after the story and shared his reporting with us.

"You walk down the street with a beard and kippah," Yaguda Kellerman, deputy chief of the Donetsk Jewish Community Center, said to Shapiro. "And you never experience any problems here. I was born in Donetsk."

Donetsk chief rabbi Pinchas Vishedski acknowledged the flier's existence, but called it a provocation, Shapiro reported.

Both sides — pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian — have accused each other of anti-Semitism during this conflict.

An April 15 United Nations report noted that the Association of Jewish Organisations and Communities of Ukraine has said incidents are isolated and that Jewish people, generally speaking, don't feel threatened by Ukrainian leaders.

The pro-Russia rebels have since put out their own flier attacking the original anti-Semitism accusations, Shapiro reported.

Kerry said Ukrainian Jews are being asked to register. There was a flier, but it doesn't seem to have been issued by any authority. We rate Kerry's claim False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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