Ukrainian president pleads for military aid in speech to Knesset: ‘I want to point out that indifference kills’

March 21, 2022 by Gil Tanenbaum - TPS
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the members of Israel’s Knesset and other Israeli government officials Sunday evening, asking them why Israel is not doing more to aid his country militarily.

Jewish refugees from Ukraine arrive in Israel. (Gideon Markowitz TPS)

The speech was given over an internet feed from Zelensky’s office in Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials including the country’s ambassador to Israel and Zelensky himself have been complaining that Israel, in their opinion, has not done enough to aid their country in the now more than 3 weeks since it was invaded by Russia, including taking in more refugees.

As Zelensky addressed the Knesset, Israel’s Supreme Court dealt with an appeal made on behalf of Ukrainian refugees that asked the court to require that Israel’s government extend greater benefits and services to the non-Jewish refugees who are not entitled to Israeli citizenship or residency.

But in his speech to the Knesset President Zelensky stressed his nation’s need for more defensive military aid, specifically Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defence system. “Israel is well aware that the Iron Dome is very good [at defense],” he said. “We know that you can stand up and defend your interests and also help the Ukrainians protect the Jews of Ukraine. Many people can ask why we cannot get weapons from you, why Israel did not impose sanctions on Russia – Israel must give answers to these questions and then live with them.”

And Zelensky, apparently, is not impressed by the mediation efforts made by Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who even travelled to Moscow to meet in person with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He expects Israel to take a clear side in the conflict; even though, its leaders have already condemned the Russian invasion and called it illegal.

“We are turning to you and asking whether it is better to provide help or mediation without choosing a side. I will let you decide the answer to the question, but I do want to point out that indifference kills,” said the Ukrainian President. “You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil.”

If President Zelensky hoped that his words would alter Israeli policy on the ongoing conflict, he, as of now, seems to have been mistaken. Israeli leaders did not make any changes to their stance on the crisis after the speech.

Israel’s Foreign Minister and co-Prime Minister Yair Lapid said, “I reiterate my condemnation of the attack on Ukraine and thank President Zelensky for sharing his feelings and the plight of the Ukrainian people with members of the Knesset and the government.”

“We will continue to assist the Ukrainian people as much as we can and we will never turn our backs to the plight of people who know the horrors of war,” added Lapid.

Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai tweeted about the speech, “Zalanski’s words do come from the heart and enter the heart.”

“The Ukrainian people, Ukrainian democracy,” he added, “have been attacked and are in great distress. We have a human, Jewish and Israeli duty to help him. Our assistance within the borders of Ukraine and in the country itself is impressive. We must also ensure refugee status. We did and will do our best.”

As with Yair Lapid, Nachman Shai merely stressed the humanitarian aid that Israel continues to provide Ukraine without responding to Zelensky’s pleas for military aid. And it is also not clear how Israel could transfer such military equipment and technology to Ukraine. The American government is involved in the development of the technologies like the Iron Dome and Israel would probably need a green light from Washington before it could transfer such military items to Ukraine.

Also, Israel is not in a position to confront Russia directly by allowing its weapons and military technology to be used against the Russian military directly, even if it is only used for defensive purposes. Israel is already having diplomatic issues with Russia over the IDF’s attacks on Syrian military positions inside of Syria, including convoys of weapons from Iran being sent to the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon. And Israel’s air force has reportedly confronted Russian forces directly in Syria over the past year.

Some Israeli politicians were even offended by Zelensky’s words, specifically with how he compared his country’s predicament to the Holocaust.

Leader of the right-wing opposition Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich said that Zelensky’s criticism of Israel was legitimate, as far as the aid that he expected to receive for his country. “But not his infuriating and ridiculous comparison to the Holocaust,” said Smotrich, “and his attempt to rewrite history and to erase the role of the Ukrainian people in the attempts to exterminate the Jewish people.”

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