Israel and its lobby depend on support from the United States.
So when Washington goes to war, the lobby will often lend its propaganda services to the cause.
The Anti-Defamation League, one of Israel’s top US lobby groups, is doing so now by rehabilitating Ukrainian collaborators who helped Hitler exterminate Jews and Poles.
This Holocaust revisionism is motivated by the need to whitewash the present-day, far-right Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis who are supported by the United States.
The reason the US, NATO and the European Union say they are sending weapons and mercenaries to Ukraine is to help a fellow democracy defend its independence and sovereignty against an illegal invasion by an expansionist, megalomaniacal madman.
It is therefore very awkward from a Western perspective that the Ukrainian regime is underpinned by hard-right fascists and neo-Nazis.
Acknowledging this fact, Western war propagandists undoubtedly fear, would legitimize President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the Russian invasion – which has been overwhelmingly condemned by the UN General Assembly – is justified by a need to “de-Nazify” and demilitarize Ukraine.
The dilemma is summed up in an NBC News headline from earlier this month: “Ukraine’s Nazi problem is real, even if Putin’s ‘denazification’ claim isn’t.”
But most Western media will no longer even go as far as NBC News in acknowledging this reality.The current war can be traced directly to the 2014 coup in Ukraine, during which the US and its allies supported far-right and neo-Nazi elements.
The goal was to install a US-friendly regime that would bring Ukraine into NATO, the anti-Russia military alliance. Moscow has long seen NATO expansion as an existential threat.
They are part of a broader Ukrainian nationalist movement that venerates Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which collaborated with Hitler during World War II.
During the war, members of the OUN loyal to Bandera formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, commonly known by its Ukrainian initials, UPA.
“Tactical” alliance with Hitler
On 4 March, the Anti-Defamation League published an article by Andrew Srulevitch, its director of European affairs, to minimize the Nazi problem in Ukraine.
The article was also promoted in a 15 March email newsletter from ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on how “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and other misinformation are spreading in the wake of the invasion.”
In order to downplay the present-day cult of Bandera and support for Nazism in Ukraine, the ADL finds it necessary to rewrite some history – in effect Holocaust revisionism.
Srulevitch’s article takes the form of a Q&A with David Fishman, a professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Fishman is also a member of the academic committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“We’ve seen torchlit marches in the middle of [Kiev] with the red and black flags of UPA … and pictures of Stepan Bandera, who allied with the Nazis during WWII,” Srulevitch asks. “Isn’t that evidence of Nazism in Ukraine?”
“For Ukrainian nationalists, UPA and Bandera are symbols of the Ukrainian fight for Ukrainian independence. The UPA allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union for tactical – not ideological – reasons,” Fishman responds.
“For Jews, however, not only is allying with the Nazis unforgivable under any circumstance, but historians have documented that Ukrainian nationalists participated together with Germans in the murder of many thousands of Jews in Ukraine,” Fishman adds.
Fishman’s excuse that Bandera and other Nazi collaborators are “symbols” of the “fight for Ukrainian independence” mirrors the claims from American white supremacists that their display of the Confederate battle flag is merely to honor their “heritage” and not to celebrate a regime that went to war to protect its “right” to enslave people from Africa.
“There are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, just as there are in the US, and in Russia for that matter,” Fishman asserts. “But they are a very marginal group with no political influence and who don’t attack Jews or Jewish institutions in Ukraine.”
In other words, there’s nothing to see here, the ADL wants us to believe.
But Israel lobby groups were concerned over the rise of the Ukrainian far-right before the Russian invasion.
“Holocaust perpetrators are the last people on Earth who deserve to be glorified, regardless of their nationalist credentials,” Efraim Zuroff, a regional director with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, another pro-Israel lobby group, correctly stated in 2015.
“This phenomenon, currently so common in post-Communist Eastern Europe, and especially in Ukraine and the Baltics, clearly shows that these countries don’t fully comprehend the obligations of true democracy,” Zuroff added.
This condemnation came after Ukrainian nationalists held a New Year’s Eve torchlight procession in Kiev to honor Bandera.
But today, just like the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is, for political expediency, denying the support for Nazism in Ukraine.
And also like the ADL, it is citing the fact that Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish as evidence that neo-Nazism is not a concern.However, this is no more convincing than arguing that the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president means that racism and white supremacy have been eliminated from the United States.
Indeed, according to the ADL, the dissemination of “white supremacist propaganda” in the US surged in 2020 – four years after America’s first Black president left office.
This rationalization, minimization and “both-sidesing” of Nazism and Holocaust crimes ought to be shocking in itself.
But the ADL’s claim that the Banderite alliance with Hitler was merely “tactical” – as if that would in any way mitigate their crimes – is also false.
“Although Bandera and his followers would later try to paint the alliance with the Third Reich as no more than ‘tactical,’ an attempt to pit one totalitarian state against another, it was in fact deep-rooted and ideological,” journalist and author Daniel Lazare writes in a 2015 Jacobin review of historian Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s book Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist.
“Bandera envisioned the Ukraine as a classic one-party state with himself in the role of führer, or providnyk, and expected that a new Ukraine would take its place under the Nazi umbrella.”
Bandera was however detained by the Nazis because he was pushing for Ukrainian independence – something Hitler was not ready to grant. But the alliance between the OUN and the Germans persisted.
“Rather than disbanding the OUN, the Nazis had meanwhile revamped it as a German-run police force,” Lazare writes.
“The OUN had played a leading role in the anti-Jewish pogroms that broke out in Lviv and dozens of other Ukrainian cities on the heels of the German invasion, and now they served the Nazis by patrolling the ghettoes and assisting in deportations, raids and shootings.”
In 1943, Banderite members of the OUN formed their own militia, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or UPA.
The UPA began the ethnic cleansing and extermination of Poles from territories they saw as belonging to Ukraine.
Citing historians, Lazare writes that “the UPA killed close to 100,000 Poles between 1943 and 1945 and that Orthodox priests blessed the axes, pitchforks, scythes, sickles, knives and sticks that the peasants it mobilized used to finish them off.”At the same time, the UPA’s attacks on Jews “continued at such a ferocious level that Jews actually sought the protection of the Germans,” Lazare writes.
“The Banderite bands and the local nationalists raided every night, decimating the Jews,” a survivor cited by Rossoliński-Liebe testified in 1948. “Jews sheltered in the camps where Germans were stationed, fearing an attack by Banderites. Some German soldiers were brought to protect the camps and thereby also the Jews.”
This horrifying history has a direct bearing on events today.
After World War II and with the start of the Cold War, the US and its allies embraced the Banderites, many of whom went into exile in the West, especially in Canada.Since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine became independent, and even more so in the last few years, the cult of Bandera has re-emerged with a vengeance.
Far from being marginal, it is fully supported by Ukrainian state institutions.
In what NBC News calls an “ominous development,” Ukraine “has in recent years erected a glut of statues honoring Ukrainian nationalists whose legacies are tainted by their indisputable record as Nazi proxies.”
In 2016, the city council in Kiev voted overwhelmingly to rename the Ukrainian capital’s Moscow Avenue in honor of Bandera.
Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, has for years documented how Bandera is regularly celebrated with statues, banners and ceremonies:The Ukrainian ambassador in Germany, Andrij Melnyk, even bragged in 2015 that he “laid down flowers on the tomb of our hero Stepan Bandera” during a visit to Munich.
Potential for horrifying blowback
With the US and Europe arming and supporting the government in Kiev, all this must be buried along with the ample evidence of support for Nazism and fascism in present-day Ukraine.
Acknowledging this reality is not the same as claiming that 40 million Ukrainians are Nazis or that the country deserves to be attacked.
Nonetheless it is crucial for people in the US, EU and NATO countries to know that their governments are colluding with, as well as reportedly arming and training far-right and Nazi elements that are definitely not “marginal.”
On top of the moral revulsion that allying with Nazis – any Nazis – should provoke, it is a strategy that is bound to produce horrifying blowback, even if an escalating conflict in Ukraine does not lead to nuclear war.
In 2019 – before it became politically necessary to whitewash them – the ADL itself warned that an “extremist group called the Azov Battalion has ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists” and issued a report on how the Ukrainian militia was trying to “connect with like-minded extremists from the US.”Today, the Azov Battalion, fully integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard, is reportedly already receiving weapons supplied by Western countries. American and European far-right extremists are flocking to Ukraine to join their neo-Nazi brothers in arms.
When these battle-hardened race warriors return home, it will be Muslims, Jews and anyone else they consider not to be truly “European” or “American” who will likely pay the price.
It may seem surprising that an Israel lobby group claiming to fight bigotry against Jews and others would help to whitewash Nazis. But the alliance between Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism goes back a century.
The ADL may also be taking a leaf from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shameless historical distortions and fabrications. In 2015, when he was still Israel’s prime minister, Netanyahu attempted to exonerate Hitler and blame the Holocaust instead on Palestinians.
Nonetheless it is still hard to fathom the cynicism it takes even for an Israel lobby group to brand almost any support for Palestinian rights as “anti-Semitic” while it helps rehabilitate Hitler’s Holocaust accomplices.
Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.