Three years ago “elections” were held in Russia which were essentially a game of musical chairs between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in the roles of president and prime minister.
Israel’s foreign minister at the time (and currently), Avigdor Liberman, surprised his own office by immediately standing behind Putin. Since independence, David Ben-Gurion – Israel’s “Old Man” – advocated an alliance with the West. The voices of the hard Left which were sounding praises of Stalin were drowned by supporters of the democratic part of the hemisphere. In recent years it seems as though that strategic choice is being reconsidered – not for the false promise of a workers’ revolution, but for one of the darkest, most oppressive, corrupted and self-serving regimes on earth.
Last month the US administration tabled a resolution in the UN General Assembly on Russian’s aggression in the Ukraine. The democratic bloc of states rallied in favor, but Israel skipped the vote. State Department spokeswoman Jen Paski said “the US was surprised,” while others expressed their shock about Israel’s choice in blunter terms.
This was followed by an important statement made last week by Alexander Romanovich, vice chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian Duma: “Nothing can harm the good relations between our two countries, as long as another power doesn’t intervene,” implying the expectation that Israel choose between the US and Russia, that it can’t have both.
The trend seems to go beyond the bizarre conduct and interests of Liberman. A couple of weeks ago, former prime minister Ehud Barak gave a rare 25-minute-long interview to Putin’s mouthpiece, Russia Today, in which he claimed that the president is “one of the most open and normal leaders Russia had in the past 500 years.”
In other countries there is ideological support for Putin. In Germany, for example, there seems to be an almost blind and deeply rooted anti-American sentiment.
Some Israeli leaders support Putin for equally short-sighted interests.
There is no room for rethinking the alliance between Israel and the West, and not only because Russia’s national resilience is far inferior to that of the US – militarily, technologically, economically and demographically.
Charles De Gaulle once said, “France has no friends, only interests,” and there cannot be doubt regarding who best serves Israel’s interests as a Jewish democracy. The US fervently defends Israel diplomatically, while Russia is ready to condemn the Jewish state, ever since the Soviet Union voted yes to “determine that Zionism is a form of racism” (UN General Assembly resolution 3379, 1975).
Putin’s supporters also need to recall the arms shipments he made to Iran and Syria. On the other hand, it is necessary to recall the $3.4 billion of approved aid for Israel’s defense budget for the fiscal year 2014. That’s $9.3 million a day – in dollars, not in rubles. Finally, the greatest Jewish Diaspora lives in North America – Jews fled Russia and the former Soviet Union as soon as they could. Choosing the Duma over the Congress, as implied by vice chairman Romanovich, could put at least 5,425,000 American-Jews in an unenviable position.
Perhaps most importantly, choosing Russia would also have profound moral consequences. One doesn’t have to read through Human Rights Watch’s last report on Russia, which depicts a reality where non-governmental organizations, freedom of assembly and expression are restricted, 76 anti-gay laws are enforced, and Kremlin critics and human rights defenders are harassed or sometimes mysteriously disappear. One can and should criticize America’s policies. However, when it comes to advocates of Putin, all it takes to tell right from wrong is to know that while the US Green Card lottery has more than 10 million applicants a year, there’s only a select few that even know the color of the Russian “green card.”
The writer had been the executive director of OneVoice Israel and is currently living and working in Washington, DC.