Why I Didn’t Listen to Zelenskyy’s Speech to Israel

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking via Zoom in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking via Zoom in Tel Aviv on Sunday.Credit: Moti Milrod

I vehemently condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and feel solidarity in every fiber of my being with the heroic Ukrainian people, who are courageously fighting the cursed occupation and are paying an unbearable price for it. When I see the convoys of refugees moving west under fire, my heart is wrought by the enormous human suffering, the exhaustion of the elderly, the dull stares. The destroyed homes also wring my heart.

I’m familiar with all these scenes. My parents lived through the same nightmare when they were expelled from their hometown of Ma’alul, near Nazareth, and most of my people were expelled across the border. Many other peoples have also lived through this nightmare, including my Jewish brothers and sisters, during those terrible times in Europe.

Nevertheless, I didn’t listen to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to the members of the Knesset Sunday night. After all, what’s the connection between the Ukrainian people’s suffering and the leaders of a country that has already been maintaining an accursed occupation for 57 years, riding roughshod over a neighboring people’s lives?

How is it, Zelenskyy, that you – a leader representing a heroic people fighting for its freedom and dignity, and even for its life – are appealing to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is the face of the ugly occupation? How is it that you are appealing to the 120 members of our Knesset when more than 100 of them either support the occupation or haven’t uttered a peep against its injustices and its continuation?

And how is it that you are appealing to a government that’s working hand in hand with Russia to divide sovereignty over Syria? One of them has occupied the airspace and the other large expanses of the ground, and the Syrian people are groaning under their yoke.

Regrettably, your own history isn’t heartwarming either. During the most recent war in the Gaza Strip, you expressed solidarity with Israel.

Of course, it’s important to show solidarity with the war’s victims, Jews and Arabs alike. But you, in your expression of solidarity, ignored the hundreds of Palestinian dead and the massive destruction of houses and apartment buildings in Gaza – scenes that even a blind man would be capable of comparing to the destruction that Kyiv and many other Ukrainian cities are witnessing today.

And one more detail that’s worth paying attention to, Zelenskyy: The Israeli far right, to whom you appealed on Sunday, isn’t exactly showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people; it only wants the Ukrainian Jews. The right-wingers are already rubbing their hands in glee: “Look! We can benefit from Ukraine’s tragedy and use those miserable Jewish refugees as a tool to beef up settlements in the territories, in the process extending the lifespan of the occupation as well as the suffering of the neighboring people.” Incidentally, some of them want to use these miserable people to push the Arabs out of the Negev as well.

So, Zelenskyy, with your speech, you gave the occupation support that’s worth its weight in gold. They needed your speech more than you need them.

They exploited you to tell the world, “Look! We’re on the enlightened side, the side of opponents of the occupation,” even while in their basement, an entire people is groaning under their jackboots, the boots of the occupation, with all its nauseating embellishments – home demolitions, land expropriations and fascist gangs that embitter Palestinian lives.

At the same time, your speech has cleansed ordinary Israelis’ conscience. They’re now telling themselves that the devil apparently isn’t so terrible. It’s true there’s an occupation, but look, the leader of an occupied people views us as allies. It’s the height of absurdity.

If I had been in your place, I would have appealed to the authentic peace-seekers among the Israeli population, Arabs and Jews alike – the people who are diametrically opposed to occupation and aggression. They are paying a heavy price at the hands of the official and semi-official propaganda machines, which portray them as people who hate the country when they’re actually the hope of an Israeli state of all its citizens.

Finally, a word to my fellow peace-seekers here. I understand your revolutionary fervor for showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people, but Zelenskyy isn’t the right address. In the end, the hypocritical Israeli right is the one that will benefit. Don’t play into its hands.

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