Opinion |

Only Israel Is Unsure Where Justice Lies

Leonid Nevzlin
Leonid Nevzlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via teleconference in Moscow, Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via teleconference in Moscow, Thursday, March 10, 2022.Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File
Leonid Nevzlin
Leonid Nevzlin

On Saturday night Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov expressed disappointment with Israel’s conduct regarding the war in Ukraine. He said that its indifference and unwillingness to take a stand are likely to undermine Ukraine’s trust. I feel it’s definitely possible that the Ukrainian side is preparing the ground to waive Israeli mediation, if Israel doesn’t change its behavior.

On February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, the world as we knew it ceased to exist. All at once the global order, international relations and theglobal economy changed beyond recognition. The world was divided into black and white, good and evil, and the gray areas almost disappeared. Since World War II there hasn’t been a conflict in which it is so clear on whose side justice, truth and morality lie.

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The Western countries closed ranks, imposed unprecedented sanctions against Russia, opened their gates to refugees and began to provide Ukraine with advanced weapons and valuable intelligence. Although that’s not sufficient, it is nevertheless amazing to see how they succeeded in overcoming their internal disputes and issued a clear, sharp and principled statement. They understood the magnitude of the hour, which requires that all of us choose a side. The side of light, freedom, democracy. It seems that of all the Western countries, only Israel has yet to fully realize that.

As a citizen of Israel, as one who has been fighting Russian President Vladimir Putin for almost 20 years, as someone for whom the concept “values” is not an empty word, it pains me to see the indecisiveness of Israel’s leadership. It’s hard for me to see its refusal to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine – even helmets and bulletproof vests – its insensitivity towards the Ukrainian refugees, the zigzagging of its diplomats during votes at the United Nations, its unwillingness to join the sanctions regime.

Some excuse this behavior as being dictated by the role of mediator that Israel has assumed. But the role of mediator does not rule out assistance to the victim of aggression, so that it can defend itself. As proof, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are sending advanced weapons to Ukraine – together with their mediation efforts.

Another explanation for Israel’s behavior is pinned on its security interests in Syria, which depend on Russia’s good will. I’ll ignore for a moment the enlightening images aired recently – of the Russian pilot, transferred to Ukraine from Syria and downed by Ukrainian anti-aircraft forces, pulling out a piece of paper (!) with a list of the targets he was supposed to attack; so much for the level of Russian pilots in Syria. I’m merely saying that this claim by Israel seems to reflect an overly narrow interpretation of the essence of our national security interest.

In my opinion, taking a strong stand alongside a Western coalition in its battle for the future of the democratic world would contribute more to Israel’s security than not taking such a stand.

The truth is, I don’t know what is really guiding Israel’s conduct regarding the war in Ukraine. Perhaps it’s the legacy of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted to be Putin’s friend at all costs and worshiped his power, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.

There’s a reason why the Israeli public has been divided on the war along unexpected lines: not between former Russians and former Ukrainians, as the vast majority of both communities support the Ukrainian side, but between the general public, which is shocked by the Russian invasion, and the Bibi-ists who support Putin.

Perhaps what we’re seeing is the “shtetl mentality”: Jews don’t care what’s happening outside their small village as long as it doesn’t affect them. And if outside our small village a war is taking place, it’s better to sit quietly and try not to annoy anyone.

But Israel is not a shtetl. It’s a modern country with a strong army, pioneering technologies and powerful allies. The time has come for it to conduct its foreign policy accordingly, to stand erect against evil without feeling any need to apologize and zigzag. I can say this because I, my family and my partners are paying a price for our battle against Putin. That’s why I know that the feeling that you are on the right side of history – with all the difficulties involved – is a liberating one.

The writer, a philanthropist and publisher, is a Haaretz shareholder.

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