Should Israel align with the West and aid Ukraine its fight against the ongoing Russian invasion? Should Israel remain neutral because it needs to coordinate with Russia in Syria in order to defend Israel’s northern border? Perhaps the most important question, however, is should Israel consider Ukraine and Russia’s treatment of the Jewish people and Israel in making its decision?
Ukraine, to say the least, has a problematic record in regard to the Jewish people and Israel. During World War II, one-fourth of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust were killed within the modern boundaries of Ukraine, a great many by individual Ukrainian citizens. This included some 1.5 million Jews murdered in what was called the “bullet Holocaust.” The Babi Yar massacre—the murder of 33,000 Jews in a single ravine near Kyiv—was carried out by the Nazis in collaboration with Ukrainians.
This wasn’t the first time Ukrainians were involved in the mass slaughter of Jews. Several hundred years earlier, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Ukrainian Cossack leader, attempted to rid the entire nation of its Jewish population by murdering tens of thousands.
What about today? The Jewish sages held that we shouldn’t hold children responsible for the sins of their parents, especially if those children have changed their attitudes. Does Ukraine feel any kind of national remorse over its behavior towards the Jews? The Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 global survey of anti-Semitism put Ukraine near the top of the list of anti-Semitic nations, with almost half the population (46%) holding anti-Jewish attitudes. That percentage is growing. Contrast this with Germany at 15% and the United States at 10%.
Moreover, Ukraine today has an officially sanctioned brigade in its armed forces that wears swastika armbands. A statue of Khmelnytsky has an honored location in Kyiv and a major boulevard is named after him.
Perhaps Ukraine has decided to address its historical sins by supporting Israel? Unfortunately, no. Ukraine has voted in favor of Israel’s enemies on 95 of 122 United Nations resolutions. Recently, it voted for a resolution that criticized Israel for defending itself against rocket barrages from Hamas. Simultaneously, Ukraine demanded that Israel do more to help it in its war with Russia.
What about Russia’s sins against the Jews? A little over a century ago, almost three-quarters of world Jewry lived in what was then the Russian Empire. Due to pogroms launched under the Tsars and the expulsion of Jews to Siberian camps under the Soviets, millions of Jews were forced to leave, abandon their faith or be murdered. From a Jewish perspective, Russia’s only saving grace is that it at least helped defeat the Nazis.
Today, according to the ADL, one in three Russians (31%) holds anti-Semitic attitudes. Regarding Israel, other than Russia’s U.N. vote to establish a Jewish state, the record is not good. Indeed, Russia continues to provided significant armaments to Israel’s enemies and virtually never votes in support of Israel at the U.N.
Should Israel support a country with a long history of anti-Jewish atrocities, in which half the population is anti-Semitic and the government supports Israel’s enemies? Or should Israel support a country with a long history of anti-Jewish atrocities, in which one-third of the population is anti-Semitic and the government supports Israel’s enemies?
Perhaps the only answer is no answer. This may be an excellent opportunity for Israel to continue to do what it does best: Help where it can from a humanitarian perspective and stay out of the political fray. It could also be an opportunity to tell both Ukraine and Russia, privately or publicly, why we are not taking sides, and to convey to them our expectations in regard to changing their peoples’ attitudes towards Jews and their support for the Jewish state.
Gary Schiff is a natural resource consultant and guide connecting Israel and the U.S.
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