History is difficult to study because it is so often rewritten. As a result, it is difficult to separate myths from facts. Forgetting the unpleasant aspects of history demonstrates Hegel’s famous statement, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
Ukrainian officials, from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk have demanded that Israel stand on the “right side of history.” Israel, they hold, should do so by joining the sanctions regime against Russia and supplying Ukraine with weapons.
This demand is unreasonable, especially given Ukraine’s own history in regard to the Jews. This included the pogroms committed by Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Haidamaks, among others; as well as Ukrainian conduct during the Russian Civil War and the Nazi occupation. Clearly, Ukraine has not stood on the “right side of history” in regard to the Jews. Ignoring this, Zelenskyy has compared the Ukrainians to the Jews during the Nazi occupation of his country.
Israel has its own history and its own “right side.” The war between Russia and Ukraine is not Israel’s war. Israel has no moral obligation to Ukraine, which will never fight on Israel’s side in return. Ukraine is seeking NATO membership in order to gain protection from Russia. Israel is not a member of NATO and must ensure its own security.
Israelis may sympathize with Ukraine, but Israel cannot afford to increase the number of its many enemies to include Russia. Israel is defending itself against Iranian aggression in Syria and Lebanon. Russia is heavily involved in Syria. Thus, Israel must maintain good relations with Russia. To do so, it must remain neutral on the Russia-Ukraine war.
If Israel takes Ukraine’s side, it will put hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews at risk. The fate of Russian Jews does not interest Ukraine, but it does interest Israel.
Russian NGO the Levada Center has concluded that the risk that passive antisemitism in Russia could become active remains. Analysts stated, “Jews understand that antisemitism is in suppressed forms because a policy of friendliness toward Jews and Israel is demonstratively pursued at the highest levels of government. If there is a turn toward antisemitism at the state level, it will immediately lead to an increase at the local level. … State antisemitism paves the way for antisemitism within the country.”
Antisemitism in Russia is controlled by the authorities. Should they wish to increase it, they can. If Israel takes Ukraine’s side, the Putin regime could choose to do so.
The West is giving all-out support to Ukraine in its war with Russia. But the West has never distinguished itself in its support for Israel. In fact, Western countries have voted for hundreds of anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. Western political and social organizations are often virulently anti-Israel. While Ukraine is a favorite of Western countries, Israel is the constant object of their condemnation. There is a Western consensus on supporting Ukraine. There is also such a consensus on condemning Israel.
Clearly, the Jewish state cannot stand on the same side of history as Ukraine and its supporters. Israel is too busy with local wars that threaten its existence. The history of the Jewish people is a bloody one. It has taught the Jews that they cannot afford to take any chances with their existence. Israel is not fighting in order to be on the right side of history, but for its own preservation in history. The demand that Israel do otherwise ignores the history of the Jewish people, which Israel takes extremely seriously. Israel must be on the right side of Jewish history.