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Ukraine War: Israel Is Like Russia? Seriously?

איתי רום
Itai Rom
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Israelis attend a rally against the war in Ukraine, last month.
Israelis attend a rally in Tel Aviv against the war in Ukraine, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush
איתי רום
Itai Rom

In December, the Ukrainian president spoke at an event held by the Kyiv Jewish Forum. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, before he became a reluctant international mega-star, proudly noted that Golda Meir and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi were both born in Ukraine and said that “Israel is often an example for Ukraine.” “Like the Jews,” he continued, “we, too, know what it means to defend your country and your land with weapons in hand, even at the cost of our lives.”

Two months later, as the Ukrainian people prove their willingness to fight and to sacrifice, some are saying that Zelenskyy got it wrong, big-time: It’s not Ukraine and Israel that are so similar, but rather Russia and Israel. MK Ofer Cassif tweeted: “Anyone who oppresses Palestinians has no right to complain about Ukraine’s fate.” “Putin is holding up a mirror to Israelis,” Rogel Alpher wrote, “gaze into it and see us.” Gideon Levy explained that it’s not merely points of similarity, but that the two countries are essentially interchangeable: “More than once, Israel has behaved exactly like Russia,” he wrote.

Putin clobbers Ukraine, and Israel's Holocaust museum fights its own war. LISTEN

I’m racking my brain, trying to recall a more inexact use of the word “exactly.” The Israeli occupation in the territories needs to end, and Israeli soldiers should not have set foot in Beirut. And yet, there is no truth in describing Israel as a country that decided (and “more than once!”), one fine morning, to go and conquer a peaceful neighboring country – without the slightest provocation or justification – just to expand and seize control over its surroundings.

Israelis assemble packages for Ukrainians in Tel Aviv, this week.Credit: Hadas Parush

Many Israelis are blind to the injustices of the occupation in the territories, but Alpher’s claim that “There is no difference between Putin in Ukraine and Israel in the Golan Heights, West Bank and East Jerusalem” also shows blindness. You needn’t be a professor of political science to understand that the conflict in the Middle East is far more complex, that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Chief Yihya Sinwar are not exactly Zelenskyy and that given the Palestinians’ demands, even a government headed by Meretz’s Mossi Raz would find it difficult to end the occupation.

Levy writes, “Israel always feels threatened, just like Russia.” But it is worth mentioning that Israel not only “feels threatened,” it truly is threatened, while Russia, truly, is not. Doesn’t it count for anything that Russia could pull out of Ukraine this minute without worrying about being on the receiving end of any violence, while deadly violence would inevitably ensue if there were a unilateral Israeli exit from the territories?

Levy continues: “The demonization is the same too: The Ukrainians are Nazis, the Palestinians are terrorists who want to destroy Israel. The distance between these two statements and the reality is the same.” Really? Every generalization does a disservice to the truth, but couldn’t the allegation that a significant portion of Palestinians support terrorism and Israel’s destruction be just “a tad” less false than the allegation that Ukraine is ruled by the heirs of Hitler and Goering?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting, in Sochi in October. Credit: Yevgeny BIYATOV / Sputnik / AFP

Amazingly, it seems that the rest of the world – even the supposedly, rabidly anti-Israel Europeans – clearly understands that comparisons like this are an insult to their intelligence. Despite Alpher’s assertion that “to be horrified by Putin is to be horrified by Israel,” people somehow insist on being a lot more horrified by Putin. Levy writes that the world that is appalled by Putin is “no less horrified by the Israeli occupation” – but the facts prove otherwise. A minute and a half after occupying Ukraine, Putin was hit with sanctions on a scale that, even after 55 years of occupation, the Palestinians couldn’t dream of seeing imposed on Israel.

Various agendas and cold calculations have fed into this situation, but it’s not just that. The Ukrainian struggle has stirred solidarity and has inspired and moved so many people around the world precisely because it is so clear and “simple”: Black vs. white. That is not the case here, even if Israel has a lot less “white” than most Israelis believe.

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