(JTA) — U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry condemned as “grotesque” fliers that called on Jews in parts of Ukraine to register and pay a special tax to pro-Russian separatists.
The fliers’ authenticity and origins are not clear. They appeared last week in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, where pro-Russian separatists who earlier this month declared the formation of the “republic of Donetsk” are locked in a standoff with Ukrainian authorities and are occupying buildings.
“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque,” Kerry said Thursday in Geneva, where he was attending talks aimed at resolving the Ukraine crisis.
“It is beyond unacceptable, and any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities — from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of — there is no place for that,” he said.
He also condemned as “grotesque” reported threats by Ukrainian nationalists on members of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The fliers were handed out to passersby near a Donetsk synagogue by three men wearing masks, the news site novosti.dn.ua reported.
The fliers in Donetsk said all Jews who are 16 and older should register at the government building, which separatist protesters are occupying, and pay a registration fee of $50 by May 3 because of their support, according to the text, for Ukrainian nationalists.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the separatists in Donetsk whose name appears as the signatory on the fliers, denied any connection to the documents, saying the signature is not his.
Ukraine and Russia have exchanged allegations of anti-Semitism since the ouster from power in February of the Ukrainian former president Viktor Yanukovych over his ties with Russia and corruption charges.
Both parties, pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist forces, have accused each other of staging anti-Semitic incidents to undermine each other’s public image.
Both countries have relatively low levels of anti-Semitic incidents, but several violent attacks have been documented in Ukraine since the revolution began, including the stabbing of a rabbi, a number of street beatings and the attempted torching of a synagogue.