February 18, 2016
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into Shas MK Ya’acov Margi’s visit to Crimea on Feb. 2016, in an effort to dissuade others from visiting the peninsula and giving legitimacy to Russian rule there. According to a statement on the Prosecutor’s Office website, “a criminal investigation” against Margi was launched due the illegal entry into Crimea, the territory annexed by Russia in 2014.
According to Ukrainian law, violation of entry procedures into Crimea is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Ukrainian authorities have also hinted that the visa-free travel to Uman for tens of thousands of Israelis visiting the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov each year may be in jeopardy.
Ya’acov Margi, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, met with the head of the Russian-established government in Crimea, Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, breaking with Israel’s policy of maintaining strict neutrality in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Margi’s visit was trumpeted in the local press as an indication of cracks in the international isolation of Crimea. The Knesset’s spokesman said the trip was not an official Knesset delegation, and not planned or coordinated with the Knesset, beyond the requisite authorization from the Ethics Committee. Margi submitted to the Ethics Committee an invitation from Chief Rabbi of Sevastopol Binyomin Wolf, including an offer to fund his trip. Foreign Ministry officials said they did not know in advance about Margi’s trip.
Crimea’s PM Sergey Aksyonov put out a statement that the meeting was likely to help Israeli citizens and governmental bodies “form an objective opinion about contemporary processes and events in Crimea.” “Despite a widespread opinion that it is unsafe to be in Crimea, [Margi] became convinced of the opposite. He saw everything with his own eyes. I have no doubt that the people of Israel will learn the truth: Crimea returned to Russia on its own free will expressed by the people of Crimea,” Aksyonov said. The statement quoted Margi as saying he saw the life of the Jewish community there “and that tells you the truth about Crimea. I can see calm people who go to shops and ride in public transport, though I used to have a totally different picture. Jews live in many countries, and [a] bad attitude to Jews is growing in many of them. But I feel very comfortable in Crimea,” Margi said. (Source: Jerusalem Post )
Earlier on Jan. 2016 Ukrainian Embassy in Tel Aviv threatened sanctions on Israelis doing business in Crimea . Such activities, the embassy asserted in a statement, are a violation of both Ukrainian and international law, and should they continue, “relevant information will be transmitted to the competent authorities of Ukraine to further bring to justice perpetrators of violations of the current legislation.” Companies that continue operating in Crimea without coordinating with Kiev may be subject to “special restrictive measures,” such as sanctions. According to the Ukrainians, Israeli citizens have been traveling to the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, without permission from Kiev, and Israelis firms have been engaged in “business activity in cooperation with the illegal authorities of Crimea without a permit.” (Source: JPost )
On Aug. 2015 Jerusalem Post reported that during a meeting with Vladimir Putin, a leader of Reform Jews in Crimea said his community’s situation has improved since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. Anatoly Gendin, chairman of the Ner Tamid Reform Synagogue in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, thanked the Russian president for what Gendin described as Russian authorities’ attentiveness to the requests of Crimean Jews on restitution and other matters, and the rule of law in the disputed territory.
As Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula following a referendum of residents that showed majority support for the move, some Ukrainian Jewish leaders condemned the annexation. However many Jews in Crimea itself, including Reform and Orthodox rabbis and community leaders, say they feel safer under the sovereignty of Russia under Putin, who is widely credited for tough action on anti-Semitism and an attentive approach to the needs of local Jews. There are an estimated 17,000 Jews in Crimea.
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