Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed reports Thursday that Jewish citizens in eastern Ukraine have been sent notices requiring them to identify themselves, and offered a strong condemnation of what he termed "intolerable" behavior.
The fliers were reportedly given to Jews in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, apparently by pro-Russian militants there lead by Denis Pushilin, according to USA Today. Pushilin acknowledged the existence of the fliers, but "disavowed their content," the paper reported.
"The leaflet begins, 'Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,' and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and 'register,' " according to USA Today. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the leaflet required all Jewish residents of Donetsk to pay a $50 registration fee before May 3.
Kerry, who on Thursday met in Geneva with the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers as well as European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, said that all parties "strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism."
"In [the] year 2014, after all of the miles traveled in all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it's grotesque, is beyond unacceptable," Kerry said of the fliers during a press conference in Geneva. "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. And unanimously every party today joined in this condemnation of that kind of behavior."
Kerry: "Not Just Intolerable But Grotesque"
A spokeswoman for the State Department confirmed Thursday that there is evidence that the fliers are real, but added that they are still unsure who is behind them. "I don't have more details on where the leaflets are coming from, but I know we're looking into it," spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
The Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights advocacy group, questioned the authenticity of the documents on Thursday, while condemning the fliers. But Harf noted that the State Department has "no reason to believe" the fliers are not authentic.
The severity of the accusations against pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine could change the course of negotiations on Capitol Hill, where both chambers passed sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea just two weeks ago. The White House said Wednesday that it was preparing additional sanctions, but Thursday's agreement between all sides involved in the crisis to de-escalate tensions could delay their implementation.
Already, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., were tweeting about the escalation of anti-Semitism in the country on Thursday. "The true face of intolerance emerging in east Ukraine," Cruz wrote. In a statement to National Journal, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said "Secretary Kerry's statement reflects my disgust, dismay, and disbelief that in this century we would see such an attack on the Jewish people. The fact that no group or individual is taking responsibility tells me that it could well be part of a sick strategy to foment even more unrest in Ukraine."