For Jewish News August 17 2023
Relations between Israel and Ukraine are not at their best.
Despite the fact Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, the situation is fractious, to say the least. For historic and current reasons, Israel has chosen largely to lag behind mainstream global support for the country.
There is the burgeoning Russian presence just over the Israeli border in Syria plus the fact Israel is home to any number of displaced Russian Jewish oligarchs. Jerusalem does not want to upset the Russian bear, in the persona of president Vladimir Putin, any more than is completely necessary.
Nevertheless, Israel has taken in numbers of Ukrainian refugees and finally agreed at the end of July to supply Ukraine with a radar defence system that can provide crucial and precise early warning of missile and rocket attacks on residential areas. It ties in to an existing Russian network, which is not as specific.
Reports in the Hebrew press say officials at the defence ministry’s directorate of defence research and development, and from the political-military bureau, have been in Kyiv to lead the co-ordination of the Israeli and Ukrainian systems.
This can’t be seen as the first step toward Israel providing offensive weapons to Ukraine. But at least it’s something. And the timing is important, nearly 18 months after the start of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
For two things have happened in Israel that ought to concentrate minds in both countries. First, Israel has arbitrarily and with no prior warning stopped medical coverage for around 14,000 Ukrainian refugees to whom it has given shelter since the start of the war.
The finance ministry has withheld funding but several government departments, including the health ministry and the inexplicably-separate welfare ministry, are blaming each other for failing to request the money on time.
And nobody cares about the real-life crises affecting Ukrainian refugees, who are being chucked out of hospital or refused treatment because they no longer have medical insurance.
Ukraine, you might think, doesn’t have a lot of comeback, embroiled as it is in fighting Russia on every front it can. But perhaps it does: the Kyiv Post has reported Ukraine is seeking to remove Israel from the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, also known as the Ramstein Group, an alliance of 54 countries that supports Ukraine militarily and convenes monthly. That would be a shameful development
I said the timing was important in these developments and that’s because we are once again approaching Rosh Hashanah, whose days in the calendar are marked annually by pilgrimages by strictly-Orthodox men to the Ukrainian town of Uman.
A couple of weeks ago, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, no stranger to tough interactions with Israeli authorities, held a meeting with Meir Porush, the Jerusalem affairs and heritage minister, under whose aegis the Uman pilgrimages take place, telling him bluntly the safety of this year’s Uman pilgrims could not be guaranteed.
He also warned “the current situation leaves us no choice but to consider limiting the entry of Israelis” to the city. Since hundreds travel to Uman each year to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the ambassador said the numbers of army and security personnel necessary to protect such pilgrims could scarcely be spared while Ukraine fights Russia in the area.
“Give us defensive weapons”, ran the subliminal message, “and we will allow your pilgrims in.”
Israel needs to fix this situation, and fast. It needs to sort out medical cover for the Ukrainian refugees it houses and it needs to ensure that, in this war, it is on the right side of history. It is time for Jerusalem to wake up.