Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Is Israel standing up enough?

David Horovitz makes a persuasive case for Israel taking a full-throated stand in support of Ukraine and making an explicit condemnation of Russia's egregious invasion.

In an ideal world, that is what any democratic country that respects sovereignty and independence should be doing. Of course, in an ideal world, an oppressive regime should not exist and certainly should not be engaging in naked, unprovoked aggression against its neighbors.

The world's only Jewish nation, its people imbued with a history of oppression and powerless against evil forces, of course feels instinctively that standing with the victim is the right place to be.

And yet there is consternation over an apparent hesitation by Prime Minister Bennett to specifically condemn Russia. There is a debate over whether Israel is doing enough.

It is interesting that Israelis are having this debate among themselves. Are there many non-European countries that are having internal debates about their level of support for Ukraine? It is also interesting that citizens of other countries, including the United States, are asking what Israel is doing. And, of course, there are some who are saying Israel is not doing enough.

Why are Israelis and others having this debate, asking these questions, making these criticisms?  Is it because of the Jews' long history of being the victims and their long identification with the underdog?

Is it because Israel takes pride in and often speaks of its status as the "only democracy in the Middle East? Is it because Israel has a special relationship with and receives unparalled support from the the United States, the "leader of the free world" that is leading the non-military effort to repel Russia?

One might argue that at least some of the criticism comes from a disproportionate focus on Israel's alleged faults, and from a desire to take any opportunity to discredit Israel. From the same motivation that causes the U.N. to pass 14 resolutions against Israel in 2021 while passing only four against all the other countries on earth.

From the same unending hostility that causes the U.N. Human Rights Council to make Israel the only nation with a permanent agenda item, and that causes the U.N Human Rights Council to choose Israel as the only country to be subject to an open-ended and effectively permanent inquiry into alleged war crimes.  You don't have to be much of a cynic to believe that at least some critics are motivated by a deep-seated animus toward Israel and/or Jews.

The fact is that Israel has drawn lines, has balanced competing interests, has considered both moral and practical factors in doing and saying what it has done and said about Ukraine.  In that regard, it is like every other country, including the U.S. and the nations of Europe.

Among other things, those nations have considered their dependence on Russian energy, their desire to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia, their businesses who rely on Russian customers and suppliers, and they have weighed those considerations against the moral and practical reasons for confronting Russia.

None of those countries have chosen to jeopardize the lives of their soldiers or civilians in their stand against Putin's naked aggression against a sovereign country that wishes to be a part of Europe.

One can argue with Israel's conclusion, but one cannot argue that Israel isn't like every other country in weighing carefully all of its interests when determining how to support Ukraine.

What has Israel done regarding Ukraine?

1. It has come out in support of Ukrainian sovereignty. Foreign Minister Lapid specifically mentioned Russia in his condemnation while Prime Minister Bennett has not.

2. Israeli doctors have flown in to assist.

3. It has provided 100 tons of humanitarian aid.

4. It voted in support of the UN General Assembly’s resolution condemning the invasion.

5. While not directly supportive of Ukraine, it is noteworthy that Israel is helping citizens of countries that wish its destruction leave Ukraine.

Israel’s statement in support of Ukrainian sovereignty and Lapid’s mention of Russia caused Russia to attack Israel for controlling the Golan Heights.

What has Israel not done:

1. The Prime Minister did not specifically condemn Russia.

2. Israel did not co-sponsor the UN Security Council condemning the invasion, a resolution that was doomed to defeat at the hands of Russia's veto.

Any person who supports democracy and freedom would like to see Israel, as well as many other countries, be even more vociferous and more generous in their support of Ukraine.  However, there are reasons with life-and-death implications behind Israel's approach. Horovitz makes mention of the situation with Russia in Syria, but then somehow disregards it in arriving at his conclusion.

Because of decisions by both Presidents Obama and Trump, Iran and Russia both have a military presence in Syria, with Iran supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in efforts to attack Israel and to install sophisticated precision missiles aimed at Israel, like the 140,000 installed in Lebanon (often embedded amongst civilians) despite UN resolution 1701 assuring that, except for the Lebanese Army,  southern Lebanon would be demilitarized.

Israel has an arrangement with Russia that allows it to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, but Israel has to coordinate closely with Russia’s military there. One mistake that causes a Russian casualty or death, and Israel is toast.

This is not theoretical geopolitics. If Israel cannot operate in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will become entrenched there and will use it as a base to harass and kill Israelis. If Russia does not allow Israel to operate in Syria, and/or does not coordinate with it, Israeli pilots and other soldiers will have a much tougher job and be at much more risk as they attempt to defend the north.

The importance of Israel's need to manuever in Syria becomes magnified if the reports of the resuscitation of the Iranian nuclear deal prove true.  The deal, negotiated by nations outside the region, will reportedly do nothing to impede Iran's ability to support terrorism, to destabilize other nations, and perhaps to slow Iran's development of ballistic missles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.  It will undoubtedly put more funds at Iran's disposal.

There is another risk:  About 200,000 Jews live in Russia.  While times have been relatively good as of late, Russia and many Russians have a deep, historic "tradition" of vicious, often violent anti-Semitism.  While it may not be the overriding factor,  Israeli leaders are always mindful of the jeopardy that Diaspora Jews may be in as a result of Israel's foreign policies.

The question is if the upside of an explicit condemnation by Prime Minister Bennett and the comparatively small amount of military aid it could contribute outweigh these real, potentially deadly risks.

Many of the people in the West who think Israel should say and do more despite the life-and-death risks that may result live in countries, including ones in Europe, that will not commit their soldiers to fight for Ukraine. They will not even establish a no-fly zone.  And yet they would have Israel make statements that could very well have deadly consequences for Israel. It seems just a bit hypocritical.

Ironically, President Zelensky asked Israel to host and mediate peace talks because he is of the view is that Israel is one of the few countries that has decent relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Putin rejected the idea.

While Zelensky's proposal was is flattering and shows the value of Israel's relationship with Russia, Putin's rejection was probably a good thing. Bennett and Lapid have enough trouble mediating between their coalition partners. It's doubtful they needed additional work.

 (Originally published in The Times of Israel)


  1. You "doth protest too much".

    The very same arguments you mention were made ad infinitum over the years about why the world shouldn't care about Jews or for that matter Israel. There were always more compelling "interests' and consequences considered. Does oil ring a bell here??? I could list many of them going back to the Holocaust and Roosevelts rational for not letting in more Jews but I believe you know much of what I refer to. I usually agree with your comments but I find this essay difficult to defend and disappointing. You are basically saying that Israel can't express proper support for fear of the many times have I heard that in our own history. I am very upset with Israel's response considering our own Jewish past and indifference from most. The record of the world is replete with explanations of why helping Jews always had "consequences" less than ideal that many used as an explanation for not coming out in favor of what was right and see Israel do the same in regards to Ukraine and US interests is very sad for me and cannot help but impact my support.

  2. I hear also heard that Israel was asked to mediate in the war (can't really call it a dispute). If Israel has the opportunity to help forge a peace agreement and end this slaughter, I would think that would be a good thing for its international reputation. Right now, Putin is not there, but perhaps if things stall and he gets enough grief from his oligarch pals (and the Russian people), that might change.

  3. Well said once again alan.

  4. Thank you. well written and well said!

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a lucid manner.

  6. Tough call. You identify issues well.

  7. All countries follow their interests.

  8. you have put up a good case
    this senseless slaughter is making me ill......

  9. A very comprehensive look at things for us in the US. Many thanks.