Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s statement on Thursday that “our hearts are with” the citizens of Ukraine, “Israel will mobilize to extend humanitarian aid as needed,” and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s condemnation of the Russian invasion are a good start for Israeli policy, but it is not enough. For close to 14 years, since the 2008 war with Georgia, when Vladimir Putin’s Russia first invaded a neighboring country, Israel has been silent. It remained so in 2014 as well, when Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
The apprehension is understandable. Putin is responsible for the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews, and Russia has in recent years become a significant player in the Middle East, with its warplanes flying in Syria’s skies. Israel has no reason to interfere in wars that are not its own, not to mention that condemning Russian aggression and occupation could sound a little strange coming from a senior cabinet member of a state that for nearly 55 years has maintained a military occupation of millions of disenfranchised citizens.
Nevertheless, Israel can no longer bury itself in silence. The Ukrainian nation, which is now under attack, has been fighting since the beginning of the 20th century for its political and cultural independence, and millions of its people have died in wars and from starvation and oppression. This nation is deserving of Israel’s sympathy and moral support. Not to mention that by way of justifying going to war, Putin claims that Ukraine is “ruled by neo-Nazis.” This is mendacious propaganda meant to conceal an imperialist motive. Putin’s attempt to liken the invading Russian army to the Red Army that liberated East Europe and the extermination camps from Nazi Germany borders on Holocaust denial. Lapid, who is well aware of the Holocaust’s lessons, would do well to denounce the Russian president for that as well.
This isn’t only about historical morality. Despite its violations of international law, Israel aspires to be part of the Western world and a member of the community of democracies. When Putin comes out so blatantly and clearly against both an independent state’s right to determine its way by democratic means and the West, there is only one side Israel can choose.
- The Ukrainian People Are Fighting for Their Lives
- Russian Mothers Say Soldiers Tricked Into Going to Ukraine
- 'Absolutely Senseless' Russian Attack Targets Ukraine's Chernobyl No-go Zone
Bennett and his senior ministers must not be blinded by their close ties with Putin and with the billions that oligarchs from the circle closest to him have invested here. Israel must choose the right side of history.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.