Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday urged Israel to abandon its effort to maintain neutrality following Russia’s invasion, saying the time had come for the Jewish state to firmly back his country.
Zelensky, who is Jewish, made the appeal during an address to Israeli lawmakers, the latest in a series of speeches by videoconference to foreign legislatures.
In remarks that at several points compared Russian aggression to the Holocaust, Zelensky said that “Ukraine made the choice to save Jews 80 years ago.”
“Now it’s time for Israel to make its choice.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has walked a careful diplomatic line since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
Stressing Israel’s strong ties to Moscow and Kyiv, Bennett has sought to preserve delicate security cooperation with Russia, which has troops in Syria, across Israel’s northern border.
Bennett has held regular phone calls with Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including a three-hour meeting with Putin at the Kremlin on March 5.
While Ukrainian officials have voiced appreciation for Bennett’s mediation, Zelensky on Sunday implied that his efforts had proved to be a misstep.
“We can mediate between states but not between good and evil,” the Ukrainian leader said.
– ‘Nazi terminology’ –
Zelensky, whose family lost relatives during the Holocaust, claimed the Kremlin had used “Nazi terminology” in characterising its objectives in Ukraine.
“The Nazis talked about a ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish question,” he said. “Now Moscow is talking about a final solution for Ukraine.”
His comparison drew immediate criticism from some Israel officials, including Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel from the right-wing New Hope party.
“We cannot rewrite the history of the Holocaust, a genocide that was also committed on Ukrainian soil. This war is terrible, but comparing it to the horrors of the Holocaust and the Final Solution is outrageous,” Hendel tweeted, while also voicing support for Ukrainians.
Zelensky has said he was not religiously raised, and he did not put his Judaism at the forefront of his presidential campaign.
But he has increasingly invoked his faith to rally support for Ukraine among Jews and within Israel, including through social media posts in Hebrew.
The Jewish state has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, but some members of its coalition government have voiced a tougher line than Bennett.
– ‘Ashamed’ –
They include Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who has repeatedly condemned Russia’s actions.
“I reiterate my condemnation of the attack on Ukraine and thank President Zelensky for sharing his feelings and the plight of the Ukrainian people,” Lapid said after the speech.
Zelensky’s appearance was also shown at Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, the scene of several recent anti-Russia rallies.
Ahead of the speech, Tel Aviv’s left-wing Mayor Ron Huldai said Israeli neutrality was no longer tenable.
“Putting any political consideration aside, we are witnessing an event where it is clear what the bad and what the good is; who the aggressor is and who the assailant is,” Huldai said.
“There are moments when one cannot stay quiet; and today, now, is exactly one of these moments.”
Watching the speech at Habima Square was 45-year-old Ukraine-born Victor Vertsner, who said he was “ashamed” by Israel’s response.
“We’re doing too little and doing it too late. We have to do more. We don’t have the right to stand aside and watch, as Jewish people who lived through the Holocaust and who survived,” he told AFP.
More than one million of Israel’s 9.4 million residents have roots in the former Soviet Union.
Israel has provided humanitarian support to Ukraine but has so far rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for military assistance.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)