NOTE: Al Jazeera published my analysis of Israel’s disappointing stance toward Ukraine and the Russian invasion. Last week, the New Arab published another piece of mine on social media censorship of speech on Palestine. It focused on my personal battle with Reddit, where a pro-Israel administrator permanently banned me.
Today, Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Israel’s Knesset (full transcript here) …in a manner of speaking. When Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel first proposed such a speech, the Knesset leadership was reluctant to rock the boat, since the official government line was to maintain neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine war. The Speaker told the ambassador he could not convene the full plenum since the body was in recess and the building itself was undergoing renovations. You would think that for a country desperately staving off destruction at the hands of an invader, Israel could make allowances and convene the entire body somewhere.
Ukraine’s ambassador refused this option and things remained in a stalemate. Apparently, it was broken because today Zelensky did address the Knesset, albeit via Zoom with members dispersed in their homes around the country. His address shows why the Knesset leadership was reluctant to host Zelensky, to begin with. He forcefully made a case for Israeli support against the Russian aggressors. He used every tool at his disposal including Jewish history and especially the Holocaust. He told his audience that just as Israel was birthed in the shadow of that horrible genocide, so his country faced the same peril. He asked how Israel could stand by in silence.
Israel has one of the most advanced weapons industry in the world and is ranked eighth as a global arms exporter. Why, Zelensky asked, are you refusing to arm us? An even more pointed approach would remind the Knesset of the Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis with makeshift weapons, and often abandoned to their own devices. What if the major allied powers had offered the arms they needed to take on the Nazis in full force? Consider the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. The Polish government in exile stood by and did nothing to help. It wasn’t till 1944 that the Polish resistance mounted it own uprising which eventually led to a Soviet advance and capture of the city. What if those valiant fighters had been fully and properly supported?
One of the most effective weapons, and entirely defensive in nature, would be the Iron Dome system, which protects Israel from a considerable number of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets. But Israel refuses to sell it to Ukraine, again in order not to offend Putin. He is already enraged to see his warplanes, helicopters and missiles shot down by Javelins and other NATO weaponry. To offer Ukraine yet another tool to defend itself would be too much for Putin. Apparently, for Israel’s timorous leaders lacking a moral spine, it’s also a bridge too far.
A few Israeli politicians were enraged by Zelensky invoking the Holocaust. How dare a foreign leader tell Israelis what their obligation was to his country. using the Holocaust to instill guilt. How dare Zelensky argue that the Nazi Holocaust was not unique; but that in every generation, according to an ancient prayer, a genocide arises not only to destroy us, but to kill Cambodians, Armenians, Tutsi, Native Americans and Bosnians and yes, Palestinians.
In addition, Israel’s hypocrisy about exploiting the Holocaust to promote its own political interests is unsurpassed. Bibi Netanyahu was the worst offender, often warning that Iran plans to perpetrate a Holocaust, not just against Israel, but the entire Jewish people. Former Pres. Shimon Peres called an Iranian nuclear weapon a “flying Holocaust.” A former Israeli minister warned that intermarriage for American Jews constitutes a “second Holocaust.” If anything, Israel is the worst offender when it comes to abusing the Holocaust and the memory of the six-million.
Cowed by Putin
Russia has issued a “warning” to Israel against the Zelensky speech. The Russian ambassador said that it would make Israel “unbalanced” and threaten its role as mediator. It seems that Israel is one of the few nations in the world cowed by Russian thuggery.
PM Bennett has made much of his efforts to mediate the conflict. He offered to hold peace talks in Jerusalem. He went to Moscow to confer with Putin, then ferried a message to Ukraine which essentially told it to accede to Russian demands (according to the Ukrainian foreign minister). Or as a senior Ukrainian official said:
Bennett is basically telling us to surrender and we have no intention of doing that,” the senior Ukrainian official said.
Bennett has also explained Israel’s neutrality by claiming he can’t take sides if he hopes to mediate the conflict. But the truth is that Israel is a bystander when it comes to this war. It is a bit player. Russia, the US, NATO, China–they are the major powers who will determine the outcome.
It’s also pure chutzpah for the Israeli leader to claim a principled position regarding Ukraine. Israel’s foreign relations almost never include moral considerations; despite the fact that Jewish suffering throughout our history could have been avoided had outside parties intervened on behalf of moral values. Israel, on the other hand, acts solely based on narrow self-interest. Not to say other nations don’t do the same. But at least they make a pretense of including morality in their foreign policy calculations. That never happens as far as Israel is concerned.
Ukraine needs all the help it can get from any party willing. That’s why it desperately reaches out to Israel. Why would Bennett believe Russia values him and his intervention in any meaningful way? Putin does not need Israel. He has all the tanks and planes he needs. So Bennett’s apologetics don’t ring true.
You can’t remain neutral in the face of evil. Neutrality is another way of siding with the aggressor. As Ukraine said: they need bullets, not good wishes. As Zelensky said in his address:
Why are you busy with calculations [regarding Russia]? Mediating without taking sides? You can mediate — but not between good and evil. “
Israel has, unlike the EU, refused to impose sanctions on Russia and its multitude of oligarchs. There are many such figures in Israel who’ve bought sumptuous penthouses in Tel Aviv high rises. Not to mention their yachts and private jets flown to Israel to avoid confiscation by European states. Israel has refused to act both because it is under Russia’s thumb in Syria, and because of the enormous wealth the oligarchs have pumped into Israel’s economy. Keep in mind, that all these sparkling diamonds offered to Israel on a silver platter by these cut-throat thugs, are billions stolen from their victims or the Russian people. Using those ill-gotten gains to buy legitimate assets in the west launders the funds, transforming them from dark money to clean white cash.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.