Regarding the Ukraine crisis, of course. As eager as I am to address other issues, I feel the need to focus first on news related to Ukraine – much of which impinges upon Israel, and Jews. In many respects, we are deeply connected to these on-going events.
Natan Sharansky was born and grew up in Ukraine; he was educated in Russia and then had his horrendous Prisoner of Zion struggle with the Soviets in the Kremlin; a man of deep wisdom and moral courage, he has an intimate connection with current events. That is why I particularly noted the interview of Sharansky, which appeared in Friday’s JPost.
Sharansky says that Ukraine’s history of antisemitism is not a reason for us to refuse to help now:
“If we say we are not going to send our hospitals [to help the Ukrainians], because their great-grandfathers raped our great-grandmothers, then we will have to stop our diplomatic relations with most of the world and think about how to build our past, not how to build our futures.
“We go to Europe, to France and Spain, and love to visit all those places for medieval history, and they [the locals] are proud to show various crusader castles, and you understand that every square meter there is full of Jewish blood from the most horrible pogroms. But you don’t say, ‘OK, they deserve what happened to them under the Nazis.’ If that would be our approach then we would simply be obsessed with how to destroy the world, because we were victims practically everywhere.” (Emphasis added here and below)
Israel, he says, must stand firmly with Ukraine. This means speaking out without equivocation. He is not advocating that Israel take in unlimited numbers of non-Jewish refugees (and more on this below). But he questions Bennett’s attempt to appear even-handed.
While acknowledging the position Israel is in with regard to the need to be able to hit Iranian bases in Syria without running into conflict with Russia, he says: “We have to take care of our immediate [security] needs, but at the same time not lose sight of the unique struggle with evil in which the world finds itself.”
Because the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the greatest threat to the free world since World War II, Sharansky maintains that Israel cannot say “we’re good with both sides” and be neutral.
“…this is not a fight between Russia and Ukraine about a piece of land; it is not even a fight about the future of Ukraine. It is, rather, an attempt to change all the principles on which the free world stands, to dismiss all the understandings and agreements that guarantee people that they will not lose their freedom because at this moment their neighbor is stronger than they are.”
Bennett has continued with that balanced stance – and we have yet to see if there is substance that justifies it. Very recently, Ukrainian President Zelensky proposed that negotiations take place in Jerusalem.
“These [Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus] are not places where we can come to any understandings on ending the war — I’m not talking about technical meetings but meetings between leaders. I believe Israel can be such a place, especially Jerusalem. I think so, and I said this to Bennett.”
I haven’t seen a definitive response from Bennett, but there is a very broad feeling in Israel that this would work against us. We have a long and bitter experience to guide us here: if something goes wrong, it will be blamed on the Jews. For a brief interval of time, it seemed as if Putin might be receptive, but this situation has already shifted.
For the most part, Bennett has not served as a negotiator. He has been more of an interlocutor, carrying messages between the two and, apparently, sometimes clarifying.
There have been intermittent direct negotiations between representatives of the two countries, but not between Zelensky and Putin directly. These negotiations are scheduled to resume via video link.
Sharansky has had several opportunities to meet with both Putin and Zelensky. While Putin is the first Russian leader in a thousand years to have a positive attitude towards the Jews (imagine!), Sharansky says that “today his negative influence on the world is so much greater than his positive attitude to the Jews that [the latter] really doesn’t matter.”
Zelensky, says Sharansky, is “a model of courage and spirit,” as well as “a proud Jew who has done more than any other Ukrainian leader… to give the Ukrainians a sense of nationhood….
“…the Ukrainians…are fighting at this moment – and paying with their lives – exactly for the things that are very important for us.”
While Bennett has been reticent, from the beginning, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has been outspoken in his criticism of Russia. In the course of a three-day trip to nations bordering Ukraine, Lapid met with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă, and issued a statement:
“…like Romania, Israel condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s without justification, and we call on Russia to stop its firing and attacks, and to resolve this conflict around the negotiating table.”
Lapid then went to Slovakia and made a similar statement alongside his Slovak counterpart Ivan Korčok. Now he added that Israel will not be utilized by Russia as a route for circumventing sanctions.
One of the most contentious issues Israel is contending with is the question of how many Ukrainian refugees we would let into the country.
As to those who qualify for citizenship (and are no longer refugees once they come), there is no limit on the number. I am very impressed with the work Aliyah and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is doing in this regard.
She anticipated the potential of a massive aliyah even before the war started and proceeded to make plans. Hotels have been set in place to receive the newcomers for their first month, during which time they receive all meals, as well as assistance from volunteers and officials. Each family will receive a stipend. They will then be moved to other facilities, and ultimately assisted in acquiring permanent housing. Efforts are being made to encourage municipalities to be welcoming to them.
She is working to streamline processes and avoid bureaucratic delays. Planes from a Polish airline have been contracted to bring the refugees into Israel three times a week; the planes are waiting on the ground for them and processing is done here. She has established a committee consisting of representatives of all agencies involved in this process to work together to address problems. “I won’t rest until I know that all government ministries are prepared to absorb the tens of thousands of immigrants who will first arrive in Israel as refugees.” And she has secured funding to cover this massive project: She anticipates her ministry alone will need one-billion shekels.
Tamano-Shata anticipates 50,000 new olim (immigrants qualifying for citizenship) from Ukraine as well as from Russia within the next three months. Within six months she hopes to absorb 100,000.
So does the world recognize the massive job Israel is doing here? Rhetorical question. But this information should be shared.
The big flap is with regard to how many Ukrainians who don’t qualify for citizenship Israel will receive. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has had to restructure policy a couple of times. Yesterday (Sunday) she announced that those who have relatives who are citizens – which means a good portion of those seeking to come here – will be allowed in, and not counted within the cap she is applying; they will stay with relatives who will provide for them and must guarantee that they will leave when the crisis is over.
In spite of criticism, Shaked maintains that this is the right way to proceed, and necessary policy if Israel is to adequately provide for the large number of Ukrainians who will be coming who do qualify for citizenship. Complicating the issue is the fact that Israel has an agreement with Ukraine for visitation without visas. The Ukrainian ambassador to Israel has petitioned the Supreme Court on this matter.
To date, no Ukrainians have been granted refugee status – this would permit them to remain indefinitely. It is being assumed that the crisis is temporary. Unfortunately, that assumption may be turned on its head shortly.
In Israel, most of the criticism of our policy on receiving Ukrainians has come from the left. Lapid, after visiting a crossing at the Ukraine border, tweeted:
“We won’t close our gates & our hearts to people who’ve lost their whole world. We have a moral obligation to be part of the international effort to help refugees from Ukraine find a warm home & a bed to sleep in.” @yairlapid
On the right there are comments about what Europeans, who have been less than supportive of Israel, are demanding Israel should do.
This is a painful and difficult situation and Israel is walking a tightrope.
Andriy Yermak, a chief advisor to President Zelensky, who is in constant contact with Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, has indicated satisfaction with Israel’s current policies and actions.
“Israel undertook the difficult but noble mission of mediating the search for peace and ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
He also expressed satisfaction with the broadening of Israel’s policy on taking in Ukrainians with Israeli relatives.
Yermak may well have issued this praise now because Bennett left a cabinet meeting on Monday evening in order to hold back-to-back phone calls with Putin and Zelensky.
“The call with Putin lasted for roughly an hour and a half, during which the two men discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Ukraine, as well as efforts to allow access to Israeli humanitarian aid, a diplomatic official told reporters.”
And I’m going to stop here now, with regard to reporting on Ukraine. It’s a relief to hear a word of appreciation. I am so very cognizant that by tomorrow the situation may have shifted. Again.
Putin – facing horrific defeat – is pushing his troops to do maximum damage, including to civilians. Russian troops are approaching Poland, which is a NATO country. Attacks there would lead to a much larger war, and there is deep concern about military escalation.
What a blessing it would be if Bennett in the end had some success in de-escalating the situation.
So we watch, my friends, and we pray.
While the eyes of much of the world are on Ukraine, the disastrous deal with Iran that is drawing closer is receiving inadequate attention. The deal, should it be struck, would be horrendous and dangerous, and it is time to look at this situation more closely.
As many as 12 ballistic missiles – identified as Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles — were fired Sunday at the US consulate located in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iranian claimed that the target was “secret Israeli bases,” although there is no evidence for this.
There is speculation that the missiles were fired in retaliation for two Revolutionary Guards killed in Syria last week during the course of an attack.
The leaders of the PA had had their noses out of joint because the world, focused on Ukraine, has paid them scant attention of late. It’s time to look at what’s going on with them, as well.
Just days ago, Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog visited Turkey, to considerable hoopla. It was hailed as a new, warmer chapter in Israel-Turkey relations.
But it didn’t take long for cracks to show in the new relationship:
“A 2,700-year-old Hebrew inscription on stone that describes the Pool of Siloam and the City of David that was allegedly going to be returned to Israel by Turkey, isn’t going to leave the Istanbul Archaeology Museum after all.”
This is apparently because the part of Jerusalem where the inscription was found in 1880 was part of the Ottoman territories at the time, and it is “currently a part of Palestinian territories; thus, it was out of the question to return it to Israel.”
The tablet is “one of the oldest and most important ancient Hebrew inscriptions in existence, the text verifies the Biblical account of the building of the tunnel that brought water from the Pool of Siloam to the City of David during the reign of King Hezekiah.” Israel has long sought its return.
Good news from a political perspective in Israel is that the Citizenship Law passed. This limits the number of Palestinian Arabs who can receive citizenship or permanent residency in Israel because of marriage to an Israeli Arab. The law, which is exceedingly important, was promoted by Ayelet Shaked, and written by Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionists). It passed because of support from the Opposition.
“This is a Zionist law, a nationalist and security-oriented law of the first degree, which could not be abandoned over petty politics,” said Shaked.
The bad news is that Bennett and other members of the Coalition (Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Labor Minister Meir Cohen), in an effort to placate the Ra’am party, which was mighty displeased by movement on the Citizenship Law, has reportedly agreed to remove the ‘Enforcement Chapter’ of the Five Year Plan. That Chapter was designed to bolster efforts to crackdown on illegal Arab construction in the Negev.
In response, MK Orit Strook (Religious Zionist Party) and MK Yoav Kish (Likud), leaders of the Land of Israel Lobby, put out a joint statement:
“The Israeli government has sold out the Negev to the Islamic Movement.
“We are horrified and worried by the government’s total surrender to the United Arab List…”
Tough battles ahead.
Purim is observed on Wednesday night and Thursday, and in Jerusalem, which was a walled city, as well as in Sfat, on Thursday night and Friday.
To all celebrating, I wish a Purim Sameach. May we be inspired by the turn of events recounted in the Megillat Ester, and look for days of blessing ahead for us, as well. The Purim story tells of the courage of one Jew, Esther, who saved her people, and encourages us to see the Hand of God, even as it is hidden.