In his address on Sunday to more than 100 Members of the Knesset, as well as government ministers and deputy ministers, via video link (Video: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky Begs Israeli Knesset Members for Anti-Missile Defense), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked: “Why hasn’t Israel applied pressure on the businesses in Russia? You need to provide answers and then live with those answers. Eighty years ago, we saved Jews. Among us, there are Righteous Among the Nations. Now, you in Israel have a choice as well.”
There were an estimated 40 million Ukrainians when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Between 1.2 and 1.6 million Jews were murdered over the next few years, with the enthusiastic collaboration of the vast, vast majority of Ukrainian civilians. Ukraine as a whole was delighted to see the extermination of its Jews. And here is the number of Ukrainian righteous among the nations who saved Jews, according to Yad Vashem: 2,619.
We cherish and honor these men and women who held on to their humanity when all around them their neighbors had turned into vicious wolves. But they did not amount to the prerequisite number for President Zelensky to claim: “We saved Jews.” It would have been so much more fitting for him to announce: “We murdered Jews.”
103FM Radio host Yinon Magal tweeted in response: “Sir, the Ukrainians have murdered, raped, and abused us for centuries. We have not forgotten there were 2,673 Righteous Among the Nations Ukrainian, and to honor them I will not continue.”
He was off by 54 righteous among the nations.
“What was the purpose of the speech, to rebuke in Israel? Shame her? Make the people force their leaders to change their policies? If this is what he intended to do, he was wrong in his calculations,” said Kan 11 commentator Shmuel Rosner.
Zelensky praised Iron Dome as the best missile defense system in the world and complained that Israel was not supplying Ukraine with it. “We are turning to you and asking whether it is better to provide help or mediation without choosing a side,” he told the MKs and ministers who tuned in to the address. “I will let you decide the answer to the question, but I do want to point out that indifference kills.”
News12 political analyst Amit Segal wrote: “Zelensky’s speech was intended for one purpose – to divert the Israeli ship in the direction of Ukraine, but this attempt is not going well at the moment. Israel intends to continue with mediation, probably less because of the hope that it will help end the war in Europe, and more because of the assumption that it still serves Israel to avoid full accession to the Western bloc. Putin’s anger is still more effective than Zelensky’s anger.”
And that was the 900 pound bear in the room: all the reasons that guided Israel’s reluctance to directly condemn the Russian invasion earlier on are still there: there are Russian soldiers parked just north of Israel’s border with Syria. The last thing Israel needs is for its “neighbor to the north” to take a hostile position regarding its frequent attacks on Iranian weapons located in Syria and disrupt the IAF warplanes that are currently free to carry out their business.
Since last July, the Russian army in Syria has been disrupting the Global Positioning System (GPS) for planes flying in Israeli airspace. This is not an intentional Russian attack on Israel, but the collateral damage of the effort to protect the Russian troops in Syria from drone attacks. Now, imagine how much damage they could inflict if they were out to hurt Israel.
None of that is of any interest to President Zelensky. He attacked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid as he had done many of his other benefactors. Speaking before the US Congress he wondered if “airplanes and air defense systems are such a big request.” To the German Bundestag, he said: “You keep yourselves behind a wall, and that does not allow you to see.”
Shmuel Rosner noted that while in Washington, the Congress pushed President Joe Biden to take action he had not initially wanted, but unlike the Congress, the Knesset in Israel has no significant influence on the government’s foreign and security policy.
Moreover, the Israeli public does not believe its government’s policy on Ukraine is wrong. There may be disputes between left and right on how many refugees should be admitted and for how long, but few suggest that Israel should ignore its own security interests and attack President Vladimir Putin directly.
Therefore, Zelensky does not have a real option in Israel of putting pressure on the government by talking to the people over its head. And, by the way, the last time a foreign leader tried this was when former President Barack Obama pushed a peace process with the PA Arabs over former Prime minister Netanyahu’s head. There were few takers.
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Joint Arab List) surprised many on Monday when she told 103FM: “I have no understanding for war, but Zelensky cannot drag his country into confrontation and then be a crybaby. I think he’s been crying for ten days or more. I think Zelensky knew he was taking a risk when he dragged NATO to put weapons and missiles inside his country.”
Most Joint List MKs boycotted the Ukrainian president’s zoom speech, for all the wrong reasons – the Communist faction in the party is still pro-USSR.
Finally, overnight Monday, Zelensky reversed himself on Telegram, saying he “Appreciates Prime Minister Bennett’s efforts.” Zelensky said he understood Israeli policy. “Of course she has her own interests, to protect her citizens. We understand all this,” he stated, adding, “Bennett is trying to find a way to hold talks in Jerusalem and we are grateful for that.”
So somebody gave him the talk. Better late than never.