In 2016, Israel and Ukraine established a free trade agreement. This is the first time that a country has ever opened its market to an entire region of Europe rather than just individual nations. Experts say it’s thanks to warm ties between Jewish populations in both countries stemming from decades-old immigration waves.
Israel is a country that has been surrounded by conflict for centuries. Recently, the nation has decided to support Ukraine in its battle against Russia.
On April 14, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid makes a statement and takes questions in Tel Aviv.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/jack Guez
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel has been chastised by both its opponents and some of its allies for being too neutral toward Russia. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), one of Jerusalem’s most ardent defenders, described Israel’s reluctance to sell the Iron Dome anti-rocket system to Ukraine as “extremely disappointing.” Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a former Trump national security adviser, said “Israelis ought to be humiliated” by their government’s lack of support for Kyiv. Critics dismiss Jerusalem’s mediation efforts, claiming that they are detrimental to US and Ukrainian interests. At first, I was critical as well, openly warning of the moral and diplomatic perils of an evenhanded Israeli attitude to the conflict. Israel, on the other hand, has subsequently taken a principled stance in support of Ukraine.
Following its refusal to approve a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia for the invasion, Israel backed a similar General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s actions. The Jewish state has lately demanded for Russia’s expulsion from the United Nations Human Rights Council. “Intentionally injuring a civilian population is a war crime, and I strongly condemn it,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in explaining the decision. The Russian Foreign Ministry retaliated with a scathing condemnation of his “anti-Russian assault.”
Israel has been everything but impartial when it comes to humanitarian issues. Israel established the first foreign field hospital functioning within Ukrainian territory, in addition to delivering 100 tons of medical equipment, clothes, food, and other supplies to displaced Ukrainians. Individual and corporate contributions to Israeli and international assistance groups aiding Ukrainian refugees are being coordinated by a special office inside the Foreign Ministry.
Israel has been chastised for refusing to join international sanctions on Russia. Despite the fact that Jerusalem has the legal capacity to legally impose such sanctions under Israeli law, the government has cautioned Israeli enterprises and firms of the risks of breaking sanctions imposed by other nations against Russia. An interagency task team has been formed to prevent Russia from evading sanctions by passing via Israel. The task group was effective in preventing Russian assets from being smuggled into the nation.
These are not acts that a neutral state would do. Though some observers would want Israel to take a more aggressive approach, they should realize how much simpler it would have been for Israel to stay completely neutral. The sizable Russian-speaking community in Israel, as well as their desire to retain relationships with their family in Russia, are among the numerous reasons to avoid upsetting Moscow. There’s also Israel’s commitment to the hundreds of institutions that serve Russia’s 600,000 Jews, such as childcare centers, senior citizen homes, and schools. An anti-Putin stance might imperil these connections.
The Israeli military’s ability to attack targets in Syria, which Iran is attempting to turn as an offensive front against Israel, may also be jeopardized. To do so, Israel must coordinate its efforts with Russia’s tens of thousands of soldiers stationed in Syria. If Russia refuses to do so, it may cost Israelis their lives.
It doesn’t help that Ukraine has a long history of being one of Europe’s most anti-Semitic nations. Many Ukrainians assisted the Nazis in carrying out the Holocaust. Pogroms erupted in Ukraine earlier in the twentieth century, forcing my ancestors to flee to America. Bohdan Khmelnytsky, a 17th-century Cossack commander whose armies massacred tens of thousands of Jews, is honored by Kyiv’s major monument. In Israel, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the Knesset on March 20, in which he downplayed Ukraine’s participation in the Holocaust and compared the Final Solution to Russia’s treatment of Ukraine, was met with skepticism.
Israel’s ability to overcome these physical and psychological difficulties, as well as its willingness to support Ukraine, should be admired by the West. Furthermore, most of the criticism is unjustified. Iron Dome, which was meant to intercept basic standoff rockets, would be rendered ineffective against Russia’s superior guided missiles. Critics who criticize Israel for having to maneuver around Russian forces in Syria overlook the fact that Russia’s presence in Syria is a direct outcome of America’s disengagement from the nation. Instead of resisting Israel’s mediation efforts, the US and Ukraine have worked closely together and openly praised them.
The West’s demand that Israel ease restrictions on its help for Ukraine while refusing to satisfy Ukraine’s demands for military aid is hypocritical. Mr. Zelensky has appealed for fighter aircraft and tanks, but the United States and Germany have refused. His plea for a no-fly zone has been turned down by all Western nations. The flow of Russian oil and gas into Western Europe continues. In terms of population, Israel has taken in significantly more Ukrainian refugees—over 22,000 so far, plus roughly 10,000 from Russia—than either the United States or the United Kingdom.
Is Israel capable of more? Yes, and it should, in my opinion. Israel should assist Ukraine in strengthening its cyber defenses in addition to the helmets and flak jackets it has recently authorized for shipment to Ukraine. The Knesset should pass legislation that allows the government to formally apply penalties. These actions would strengthen Israel’s Jewish and democratic identities. It would also bolster Israel’s diplomatic and moral position as it deals with the possibility of the Biden administration renewing the Iran nuclear accord.
Nonetheless, the fundamental transformation that has occurred in Israel since the Russian invasion does not decrease. Israel has chosen a diplomatic and strategic posture that is consistent with its Jewish and democratic ideals.
Mr. Oren has held positions as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a member of the Knesset, and a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office. He is the author of “Swann’s War,” which will be released in October.
Why won’t President Biden state his aim in Ukraine is to defeat Russia or Vladimir Putin, if he’s ready to acknowledge the Russians are committing genocide there? Sputnik/Reuters/Roscosmos Space Agency/AFP/Getty Images/Sputnik/Reuters/Roscosmos Space Agency Mark Kelly’s composite
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