When Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was asked to comment on the Russia-Ukraine situation on Channel 12 on Sunday, his comments were generally free of controversy: Lapid reaffirmed that Israel is remaining careful and will consider moving their embassy from Kyiv.
Here is the full question and response between Lapid and Channel 12 anchor Oded Ben-Ami:
Ben-Ami: "[If] there will be such an invasion and indeed the Americans will impose sanctions [on Russia], will we participate and impose the sanctions on Russia, taking into account all the considerations you talked about and the importance of our relationship with Russia?"
Lapid: "Look, then we'll have to consider. That's not the situation. We need to understand, we are not there and I assess twice a day if and when we want to move our embassy from Kyiv... because we say that at this stage our intelligence assessment is different from the intelligence assessment of the Americans and the British, closer to some of our European counterparts. We are being careful and we need to be careful.”
In summary, Lapid remarked that Israel will “wait and see” in regards to sanctions while acknowledging that the embassy may be moved.
The headline that went up on Channel 12 during their 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. edition, however, did not reflect that statement – rather, it quoted Lapid as having said that Israel will support sanctions against Russia.
That headline brought a backlash against the foreign minister, as Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai responded to the out-of-context quote by saying that Israel will continue its stance of not taking sides publicly. “We try… to maneuver between all forces operating here without taking a clear public position – with great hope that this crisis will end without fire, without casualties and without a military confrontation."
Shai did acknowledge, however, that “if we ever have to choose a side, we will choose the US side.”
Lapid's remarks also reached global media, as Russian-based media outlet RT quoted the foreign minister as saying "It is natural for Israel to side with the United States."
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed government ministers to maintain careful messaging and not to express opinions and interpretations on the situation, but rather focus on evacuating Israelis.