Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent the lion’s share of his time together with Ukraine’s new Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelensky, since arriving Sunday night in Kiev for the first visit by a sitting Israeli premier in 20 years.
First thing Monday morning Netanyahu was welcomed with an honor guard at the presidential palace by Zelensky, and the playing of the national anthem of both countries. The two men met privately for some time and then held an expanded meeting together with their staff members. Israeli Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely were both present for the expanded meeting, after which the two leaders issued statements to the media and attended a ceremony to mark the signing of a number of agreements, including:
* A cooperation plan between the Israeli government and the Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers on education, culture, sports and youth for 2019-2022;
* An MOU on agricultural cooperation between the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ukraine Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food;
* An MOU between the Israel Patent Office (Ministry of Justice) and the Ukraine Ministry of Economic Development and Trade;
* An application agreement on encouraging the study of Hebrew at educational institutions in Ukraine and the study of Ukrainian at educational institutions in Israel, between the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science.
Netanyahu invited Zelensky to Jerusalem and noted that “our countries are young, but our peoples are ancient and our common ties go back centuries, many centuries.
“The Jewish community in Ukraine is over 1,300 years old, and I want to thank you for agreeing on a mutual development project for Uman that is very important for the Ukraine and for the Jewish people as well,” Netanyahu said.
“We’ve had periods of great splendor in our joint relations but we’ve also had periods of unimaginable tragedy. During the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered in the territory of Ukraine,” he noted. The two men subsequently visited Babi Yar, where tens of thousands of Jews were slain by the Nazis and their collaborators, where they both laid wreaths to honor the dead.
Speaking in Hebrew at a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished at Babi Yar, Netanyahu vowed that Jews would never again allow themselves to be placed in a defenseless position.
Following are the prime minister’s remarks:
“It is hard to believe that this beautiful forest saw the horror that happened here. Here the forest was silent, but so too was the world.
Babi Yar is endless pain. In this grave, the mass grave here behind me, tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews and many non-Jews were murdered. As Prime Minister of Israel, I honor their memory and at the same time I say in a clear voice, precisely in this place, that it is our constant duty to stand against murderous ideologies in order to ensure that there will never be another Babi Yar.
For humanity, Babi Yar is a warning sign. For Jews, Babi Yar is an eternal imperative. We will always defend ourselves by ourselves against any enemy. The Holocaust is the worst of humanity’s horrors. The Holocaust is the greatest of Jewish tragedies, and there have been many tragedies. I can see our brothers and sisters 78 years ago on the edge of the killing field. They were standing right here, a very small distance from us, naked, beaten and humiliated. At one point they understood and in their eyes was paralyzing horror. Their hearts were torn by evil cruelty. The hand of the murderers reached for the slaughtering knife and as the poet declared, the slaughterer slaughtered. Rows upon rows fell to the death pits, and as the Book of Lamentations (2:21) says, “In the streets, on the [bare] ground lie [both] young and old, my maidens and my young men have fallen by the sword.”
This unforgivable crime did not occur on another planet. It took place just minutes from the bustling center of Kiev. The massacre at Babi Yar by the Nazis and their collaborators paved the way for the murder of a million and a half Ukrainian Jews. It also preceded the final solution.
For over a thousand years, Jews and non-Jews in Ukraine lived in close proximity. They created communities, created great spiritual works, created vibrant movements, chief among them the Hasidic and Zionist movements. A thousand years, all of this, cut off from the thrust of the sword by the Nazis and their collaborators.
We will never forget the suffering and pain our people have known. At the same time we remember the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to rescue Jews. They not only risked their own lives, they risked the lives of their families and sometimes paid the ultimate price. We do not forget them even for a moment.
I thank you President Zelensky, and I also thank the Ukrainian government, for your efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. You are continuing your efforts in the war against antisemitism. We spoke now with my friend Natan Sharansky about the possibility of establishing a heritage center here that would be a symbol to all of humanity. A symbol and a monument.
Distinguished guests, the valley of blood, bones and ashes in Babi Yar is a low point in our people’s history. But with great faith and spirit, we ascended from the abyss to the pinnacle of our revival. What a difference between then and now. From a slaughtered and helpless nation. Do you know what being slaughtered is? That’s what the Jewish people were. The Jewish people were slaughtered. Moved from country to country, the Jews were a people that were slaughtered. From a helpless and slaughtered nation, we became a strong and proud country. I’m not just saying this now. I said the same things twenty years ago when I came here for the first time. I said then that the main lesson of the past is to make the State of Israel a strong country, a great power in many fields.
These are not just words. This is exactly what we did in the past twenty years. We have turned the State of Israel into a global power. Israel is successful, prosperous and advanced. We have a strong army, we have security forces, we have a flag and we have creative and innovative capabilities which the whole world salutes. We systematically cultivate our relations with the countries of the world. Israel and Ukraine walk hand in hand. Together we remember the tragedies of the past, and together we embrace the tidings of the future. Above all, we will fulfill the will of those tragically murdered at Babi Yar. Never again.”
Kiev and Ukraine Chief Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, Kiev Chief Rabbi Yonatan Markovitz, Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center Advisory Board Chairman Natan Sharansky and Jewish community leaders were present for the ceremony together with Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.