In 1986 Robert Conquest published the book Harvest of Sorrow. The book has become a classic in some circles.It tells the story of Stalin’s attempt to collectivize Soviet agriculture and how that policy lead to the death’s of millions, perhaps more than ten million. The book also documents how the West ignored the murder of these millions of persons.The full story is still not well known outside of academic circles and even in the Ukrainian community that suffered the most from this policy.
Why bring all this up now? Because the president of Ukraine is coming to visit Israel, and according to news reports is going to ask the Israeli government to declare that event a genocide against the Ukrainian people. And the same reports state that Israel will deny the request so as not to offend President Putin of Russia. There is no question that the effects of this policy delighted Stalin and his cronies (including such Jewish figures as Lazar Kaganovich).Putin’s attempt to rehabilitate Stalin and the Soviet era are well known and have even gained support from some in the Jewish community (perhaps most notably Lubavitch-Habad which has become Putin’s favorite Jewish organization).
Israel must agree to the request from the president of Ukraine. To do any less is to say that when it is our tragedy we expect everyone to acknowledge our suffering, no matter the consequences; but when it is someone else’s tragedy then it is a different matter.We cannot allow that to happen.There must be one standard for human behavior and that one standard must be that all such events should be acknowledged for what they are by all governments, no matter the consequences.We cannot expect from others what we do not expect from ourselves.This is not a foreign policy issue, an issue only for the government of Israel.In this matter, the government of Israel represents the Jewish people as a whole.It must act to remember what has happened to the Jewish people and to use that knowledge to show that the Jewish people take the correct lessons from that history.
There is another issue we must consider.There are Jews and Ukrainians who repeat stereotypes about each other to the point that many of the stereotypes are taken as truth in parts of each of the two communities.I have spent the last eighteen years working off and on with members of the Ukrainian community to better understand the lives of older Ukrainians.Not only is the Ukrainian community as diverse and as complex as the Jewish community, but the Ukrainians, like the Jews, have struggled in this century, as have the Jews, to reclaim their ancestral homeland.Both Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Dov Ber Borochov supported the desire for an independent Ukraine.The history of relations between Jews and Ukrainians cannot be described in a single word or characterized by one attitude or another – on either side of the ethnic divide.If we are going to do what the founders of the Zionist movement wanted – to deal with the other nations as equals – we must acknowledge their history as we expect them to acknowledge ours.
If the government of Israel fails in this duty to history and to truth then we will have our own harvest because when called upon to meet the same standard we demand of the rest of the world, we failed to do so.This harvest would not be a harvest of sorrow.It would be a harvest of shame.