By Rebecca Shabad - 04/17/14 04:09 PM EDT
The United States must investigate and take immediate action in response to reports that claim Jews in a Ukrainian city are being required to register their property and belongings or risk their citizenship, lawmakers said Thursday.
Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk received fliers ordering them to register with the government, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Thursday.
The report prompted Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) to write a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging his country to ensure that Jewish and other minority communities in Ukraine are protected.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) wrote a separate letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the Obama administration look into the issue.
“This is an unacceptable escalation of the crisis in Ukraine and cause for both grave concern and immediate action,” wrote Lowey, who added that Kerry’s leadership is critical in defusing the situation.
Kerry acknowledged the reports during a press conference in Geneva that announced the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and European Union had reached a deal to seek an end to violence in Ukraine.
“In year 2014, after all of the miles traveled in all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it's grotesque ... beyond unacceptable,” Kerry said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later told reporters the issue is being taken very seriously.
The Israeli report said leaflets handed out bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who was identified as the head of Donetsk’s temporary government. Pushilin reportedly said neither he nor his organization had any connection to them.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Putin to denounce any acts in Ukraine targeting Jews.
Putin previously accused Ukraine of anti-Semitic activities, but now pro-Russian separatists are engaged in these “grotesque acts,” Schumer said.
“We have seen this horror movie before, and we’re not going to abide by it.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), another Jewish lawmaker and member of the House Intelligence Committee told The Hill in a phone interview he intends to look into the rumors further after calling them “very alarming.”
The U.S. has to be “vigilant,” he said, to ensure this scenario is not part of a broader effort by Russian separatists to take control of other cities in Ukraine.
Schiff said he calls on Russia’s government to stop using “anti-Semitism as a political device.”
In a statement provided to The Hill, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) said she was concerned the reported tactics mimicked those used by Nazis during the lead-up to the Holocaust.
“We certainly need additional first-hand accounts from Jews in the area, as well as better information from Russian and Ukrainian authorities, but the fact that some actors are reusing tactics from the worst chapter of modern history adds a new, disturbing layer to an already intense and rapidly deteriorating situation in the region,” she said.
“The international community must take action to determine who is responsible and what should be done to stop this kind of activity. Anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a statement provided to The Hill.
From its New York headquarters, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been investigating the reports and discovered similar stories through primary sources.
Michael Salberg, the ADL’s director of international affairs, told The Hill in a phone interview that anti-Semitism has been alive and well in Ukraine, but the latest report appears to be an “escalation.”
“We’re reasonably certain that these fliers exist, that they were being distributed in Donetsk, and we’ve very clearly called them anti-Semitic because they are,” Salberg said.
Jews will be “intimidated” by this activity, he added, and said they are in touch with Jewish leaders in Ukraine to monitor the situation.
If these tactics transform into a larger orchestrated effort in other cities, Salberg warned the ADL would call on the U.S. government and international community to “act strongly” against these manifestations.
“And we would continue to raise awareness and sound the alarm bells,” he said, adding it’s unclear if it was a “tactic, a provocation, or an anomaly” or a group associated with Putin acting on its own.
“It is reminiscent of what the Nazis did in Germany during the mid and late 1930s toward the Jewish population,” he said.
This post was updated on April 18 at 6:37 a.m.