Photo Credit: Knesset Channel via Ynet/YouTube screengrab
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks via Zoom link to Israeli Knesset, March 20, 2022

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed 129 Israeli government ministers and lawmakers Sunday evening in a live Zoom speech to the Knesset from his shelter in Kiev.

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The speech was preceded by remarks from Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, who said in his capacity as speaker of the legislature of the State of Israel that he would “like to express my sympathy with the pain of the Ukrainian people… and send from here, Jerusalem our capital, condolences to the families of the victims and Ukrainians wounded in the war.”

The Israeli Speaker called the Russian invasion a “blatant violation of the international order and everything needs to be done to swiftly bring about a ceasefire and an end to the war.”

Levy expressed his hope that mediation efforts by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and “other international figures” will bear fruit, quoting the Bible in expressing his hope to see the time when “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they know war anymore.”

Zelensky’s speech was broadcast to and coincided with a pro-Ukraine rally that took place in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, attended by at least 1,000 Israelis.

In his speech, the Ukrainian president said his nation and the State of Israel face the same threat from their enemies: “The total destruction of our people, our state, our culture, even the name — Ukraine, Israel.”

Referencing the Holocaust, Zelensky commented that the day the Russian invasion of his country began — February 24 — was the anniversary of the date on which the Nazi party was founded in Germany in 1920. “It destroyed entire states and tried to carry out genocide,” he warned.

On that date, “102 years after the Nazis,” he said, the order was issued to launch Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “which has already killed thousands of people and left millions homeless,” he said. “They’ve become refugees…Our people are now wandering the world, searching for a place — just as you once wandered — seeking security, trying to stay alive and in peace. Exactly as you have sought.

““The Russians use the terminology of the Nazi party; they want to destroy everything. The Nazis called this ‘the final solution to the Jewish question,’” he noted. “And now… in Moscow… they’re using those words, ‘the final solution’. But now it’s directed against us and the Ukrainian question,” he charged.

Zelensky told Israel’s lawmakers that mediation is possible between two sides – in a reference to such efforts by Israel between his country and Russia – but “not between good and evil.”

Warning “Indifference kills,” Zelensky begged Israel for missile defense systems, citing attacks by Russian forces that saw missile fire aimed near Babi Yar and Uman, site of the Tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

“I’m sure you feel our pain, but can you explain why we are still asking for help?” Zelensky asked, questioning why the Jewish State has not provided his country with weapons, nor imposed sanctions on Russia.

“You need to provide answers to these questions and live with them. Ukraine decided 80 years ago and saved Jews. The people of Israel, you also have a choice,” he said.

The Ukrainian president, himself a Jew, quoted Israel’s first and only female prime minister, the late Ukrainian-born Golda Meir as well in his effort to convince Israelis to support his cause with more than humanitarian aid.

Zelensky also compared Russia’s invasion to that of the Nazi forces in World War II, saying during the Holocaust, lawmakers said, “Never again,” but in fact, the Russian military is doing the same thing.

Hebrew-language Israeli journalists and several lawmakers slammed the comparison, commenting on Zelensky’s “rage” and the past history of Ukraine vis a vis the local collaboration in the slaughter of Jews on its own territory.

Earlier in the day, Russian forces bombed an art school on Sunday in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, according to that city’s lawmakers.

Some 400 residents had taken shelter in the building, according to a report by Reuters, which could not independently verify the report.

Russia denied targeting civilians, as it did last week after firing missiles at a theatre in which at least 1,000 were sheltering.

According to the Mariupol city council, Russia has forcefully transferred residents to Russian territory as well.

Zelensky has accused Russia of war crimes in its siege of Mariupol, as with its siege of Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.