'Why won't Israel give Ukraine weapons?' Zelensky criticizes Knesset

Zelensky praised the Iron Dome as the best missile defense system, asking why Israel was not supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to Israeli lawmakers and public, March 20, 2022.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to Israeli lawmakers and public, March 20, 2022.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used his address to MKs and cabinet ministers by videoconference on Sunday evening to complain about Israel not doing enough to help his country since Russia invaded.

Pleading for Israel to impose sanctions on Russian businesses, he asked, “Why has Israel refrained from sanctions on Russia? Israel needs to give answers to these questions, and after that, live with them.”

Zelensky begged Israel to send its Iron Dome missile-defense system to protect Ukrainian civilians from Russian airstrikes. He praised the Iron Dome as the best missile-defense system in the world and complained that Israel was not even supplying Ukraine with defensive weapons.

“We are turning to you and asking whether it is better to provide help or mediation without choosing a side,” he told the MKs and ministers. “I will let you decide the answer to the question, but I do want to point out that indifference kills.”

Criticizing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has mediated between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zelensky said mediation can be between two sides but not between good and evil.

Sources close to Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said they were surprised by how critical Zelensky was in the address. Despite the speech, mediation would continue, and Israel would not provide weapons to Ukraine, the sources said.

 Pro-Ukrainian protests in Tel Aviv's Habima Square as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Knesset, March 20, 2022.  (credit: ILAN SPIRA) Pro-Ukrainian protests in Tel Aviv's Habima Square as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Knesset, March 20, 2022. (credit: ILAN SPIRA)

Lapid thanked Zelensky for “sharing his feelings and the hardships of the Ukrainian people.” Israel would continue to help Ukraine and “never turn its back on people suffering from the nightmares of war,” he said.

Comparing what his country is enduring to the Holocaust, Zelensky said the Russians were using terms like “the final solution” against Ukraine. The February 24 date of the Russian invasion was the same date the Nazi Party was founded in 1920, he said, adding that Ukrainians saved Jews in the Holocaust.

Cabinet ministers and MKs said they were offended by Zelensky’s comparisons to the Holocaust.

“His criticism of Israel was legitimate, as was his raising expectations of us, but not his infuriating and ridiculous comparison to the Holocaust and his attempt to rewrite history and to erase the role of the Ukrainian people in the attempts to exterminate the Jewish people,” Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich said.

Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly compared the Ukrainians to Nazis.

 Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) addressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, March 20, 2022.  (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET) Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) addressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, March 20, 2022. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

Appealing to Israelis, Zelensky cited Russian attacks near the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial and the burial place of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman. He complained that Israel did not sanction Russian businesses.

There were 129 ministers and MKs who listened to Zelensky quote former prime minister Golda Meir, who was born in Ukraine. Some MKs tuned in from abroad. United Torah Judaism MKs, who buried their party mentor Rabbi Haim Kanievsky earlier Sunday, participated in the event. But Joint List MKs boycotted the speech to protest Ukraine being too pro-Israel.

The Knesset’s cyber unit and the National Cyber Directorate succeeded in foiling cyberattacks aimed at stopping the speech.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy thanked Zelensky and said he was praying for an end to the war. He said he hoped Zelensky could visit Jerusalem when the war is over.

The speech was broadcast in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square and attended by several hundred people, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. There were signs at the rally comparing Putin to Nazis.

“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. “It is a moment of moral clarity. Regardless of the historical question of how the Ukrainian people behaved during the Holocaust, these current events clearly demonstrate an ongoing atrocity. In the face of such injustice, we cannot simply choose not to listen. There are moments when one cannot stay quiet, and today, now, is exactly one of these moments.”