Israel should take a strong stand against Russian aggression toward Ukraine, Lithuanian parliament speaker Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen told The Jerusalem Post during her visit to Israel this week.
“Lithuania has been feeling the Russian border coming closer,” she said as she sat in a small lounge in Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel with a view of the Old City behind her.
“We hope for a very clear stance that supports Ukraine and that shows a solidarity of democracies against Russian aggression,” she said.
Cmilyte-Nielsen was in Israel to inaugurate an honorary consulate in Netanya, the country’s third such office outside of its embassy in Ramat Gan.
It was the first of several diplomatic events that will mark the year in which the two countries celebrate 30 years of formal ties.
But this week, her eyes, like those of the entire international community, have been focused on the danger of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The proximity of Lithuania to Russia, plus its history of lost independence to the former Soviet Union, has made the subject of possible Russian moves against Ukraine a personal one, which she has raised with Israeli officials.
“The situation where Russia is threatening a sovereign democratic country poses a danger, not just for the region, but for the whole structure of international rule-based order, which is basically the only guarantee that we have of peace and security globally,” Cmilyte-Nielsen explained.
Russia, she said, has crossed a “redline” with its threats toward Ukraine and this kind of “bullying behavior” cannot be tolerated.
“We see this situation as a test of the international community,” she said.
Israel has strong diplomatic relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and both countries are home to Jewish communities. Israel has therefore spoken of its concern with regard to an outbreak of violence, but it has been loath to take sides.
Officials she spoke with rejected as false reports that Israel had asked Baltic states not to transfer Israeli-made arms to Ukraine, Cmilyte-Nielsen said.
“Yesterday we had a conversation about the recent information that Israel allegedly banned the Baltic [countries] from sending the Israeli-made weapons to Ukraine, and the officials that we met said they do not have such information and that it is not true,” she said. “That was an important piece of information for us.”
SHE SPOKE of the importance Israel holds for Lithuania, particularly in light of her country’s Jewish history and their shared values as democratic countries.
“Israel is a democracy and is a close partner to us in many ways, and we share the same values as a democratic country that is a close partner,” she said.
Lithuania, which is a member of the European Union, has played an important role as a strong friend of Israel within that body. It has also stood in solidarity with the Jewish state in international forums.
When asked about the Amnesty International report that accused Israel of the crime of apartheid, Cmilyte-Nielsen said that both she and her country rejected that view.
“It is very strong wording and [they made] very strong accusations, and we refrain from using such terminology. It does not contribute to the peace process,” she said.
The main goal is to push for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, the speaker said.
Lithuania is one of many countries that has supported the US-sponsored Abraham Accords that allowed Israel to normalize ties with four Arab countries.
“We think it is a very important process and historic. It paves the way for a much more peaceful future, which is obviously the aim,” Cmilyte-Nielsen said.
However, her focus was on improving the two countries' already strong bilateral ties, particularly with respect to improving partnerships in medical innovations and seeking to highlight the shared history between the two nations. Prior to World War II, Lithuania had for centuries been the home of a large Jewish community.
“I hope that Israel sees Lithuania as a reliable partner,” she said.
While in Israel she met with Knesset speaker Mickey Levy and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Ram Ben-Barak, both of the Yesh Atid Party. She also met with President Isaac Herzog. Levy has accepted her invitation to visit Lithuania this year.
Cmilyte-Nielsen said she also met with Israelis from Lithuania.
Among the more moving parts of her trip was her visit to the Yad VaShem-World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Cmilyte-Nielsen said she is from a city that had a “very big Jewish community that consisted of journalists, actors and artists that was literally destroyed [during the Holocaust].
“For me” the visit to Yad Vashem was “moving and emotional; I will always remember it,” she said.