Jewish group cuts funding for Kiev office over criticism of Putin

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — An organization representing Russian-speaking Jews cut funding for its Kiev office because of the office head’s criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, or EAJC, in February stopped funding its Kiev office, which is run by Josef Zissels, he told JTA Thursday.

“I don’t know for sure why they stopped the funding, but I think it may be connected to my statements on Russia,” said Zissels, chairman of the Vaad Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

Zissels was outspoken against Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including its annexation on March 18 of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine. Earlier that month, he was among the co-signatories of a highly critical open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of disingenuously manipulating concerns about anti-Semitism to justify Russia’s actions.

Zissels placed the open letter on the website of the EAJC, though the organization strongly distanced itself from the views expressed there.

EAJC, which was founded in 2002 by Jewish leaders from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, confirmed in a statement issued last week that the freeze was because of Zissels’ politics.

EAJC President Julius Meinl, the statement read, “suspended funding for several programs conducted by the Kiev office to resolve conflicts arising from … Zissels’ repeated statements which are liable to involve EAJC in the political process and that are not directly related to Jewish social life. The position adopted by [the Kiev office] at a certain stage led to the suspension of the cooperation with EAJC vice presidents, which in turn damaged the Congress.”

Zissels would not say how much money was cut, citing confidentiality issues. “It is unfortunate but this is not a tragedy because we are working on finding alternative sources of funding,” he said. “We will continue to work.”

Zissels also alleged that EAJC decided on the move “because many of its leaders have huge business interests in Russia.”

EAJC representatives declined to further comment on the issue when they were contacted by JTA.