Clumsiness in the Caucasus

The dispute between Georgia and Russia has two sides. The question is why does Israel have to turn itself into a third side.

An Israeli political activist with lots of connections swore the story is true: Two weeks ago Kadima representatives arrived in the Russian capital to reach an unprecedented agreement under which Kadima would open an office in Moscow and Vladimir Putin's United Russia party would open an office in Israel.

The activist was not overly pleased with the development. In his mind, Russia was his monopoly and the visit by the Kadima delegation was no less than a hostile takeover. Even though he did not have much faith in the initiative's success, he called one of his sources in Moscow. That little-known source, the activist knew, was supposed to arrange a critical meeting for the Israeli delegation.

"Your friend Dima is here now," whispered the Russian source. The activist wracked his memory and despite a number of Dimas in his past, he could not think of who it could be. After a few failed guesses, he heard the person on the other end of the line whispering with his secretary: "Not Dima," the secretary told her boss, "someone from Ka-Dima." The Israeli politico relaxed.

In any case, he enjoys telling the story as an example of the Russian contempt for Kadima's attempts, as well as his own personal achievement: The meeting between the Israelis and their Russian counterparts did not happen.

It is not certain whether there was really contempt here, but there was certainly horrible timing. The attempt to create a political precedent during the war with Georgia and a crisis between Russia and the West was not to either side's benefit.

Kadima was represented in Moscow by activists from the party's "Russian" apparatus, who have become Tzipi Livni's campaign staff for the Russian sector. This choice of representatives created a clear connection between the Israeli foreign minister and Kadima's attempts, and created the appearance that Kadima headquarters was managing its own regional foreign policy.

Livni's campaign staff tried to minimize the damage by playing down the story in the Hebrew press, while trying to earn some points with the Russian community by proudly highlighting the story in the Russian-language media.

This is only a specific case of clumsy Israeli machinations in a complex geopolitical situation. Israel often wants to be the mouse that roared, but all that comes out is a yelp, and we come out looking more like a little puppy. Such pathetic attempts during the war between Russia and Georgia only entangle us in unnecessary troubles.

On the one hand, Georgia was the beneficiary of Israeli weapons and military training by our finest, and Georgia, justifiably, felt betrayed by the weak official support during the hour of truth - the war. On the other hand, Russia also felt, justifiably, that Israel was using a double standard, one completely different than that used in judging America.

This distortion reached its height when Boris Shpigel, the president of the World Congress of Russian Jewry and a Russian senator, published an open letter in the name of the WCRJ accusing Georgia of genocide and demanding a trial before an international war crimes tribunal.

The problem is that most Russian-speaking MKs belong to the congress, as well as the organization of Russian-speaking Jewish parliamentarians that functions on behalf of the WCRJ. So Shpigel's statement was published in their names as well.

Does the Knesset really believe the Georgians committed genocide? If so, why is the Foreign Ministry sending Georgia humanitarian aid? The matter becomes even more problematic when MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) sends an official letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Livni complaining about the aid and explaining her position by saying Georgia started the war and killed thousands in South Ossetia. "Granting humanitarian aid to victims of the war in Georgia will have a direct effect on Russia's policy in the Middle East," Solodkin said in the letter.

Whether the Israeli Foreign Ministry or the Russians are correct, or even Solodkin, there is a bit of confusion here, which results from both loftiness and clumsiness. The life of Israeli parliamentarians is challenging enough without them getting into trouble by belonging to an organization of Jewish Russian-speaking parliamentarians, an invitation to conflict of interest.

Solodkin claims, justifiably, that the dispute in the Caucasus has two sides. The question is, why does Israel have to turn itself into a third side? To be a Jewish parliamentarian is a very moving connection when lighting Hanukkah candles together, but it is not enough to create a political platform.