Only two months ahead of his country’s presidential elections, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko arrived in Israel this week with Economy Minister Stepan Kubiv to sign a Free Trade Agreement.
High on the list of Poroshenko’s challengers for the presidency is Jewish comedian and director Volodymyr Zelensky, who has a significant following.
Given Ukraine’s long history of antisemitism and its collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust, Zelensky winning the election would be ironic since both the president and the prime minister of Ukraine would then be Jewish.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman visited Israel in May 2017.
Poroshenko met on Monday with President Reuven Rivlin, who, at the outset of their meeting, commended the Israel Air Force for its strike in Syria in response to what he termed “the unacceptable firing [at Israel] by Iranian forces from Syrian territory.”
Rivlin warned the international community that Iran is building up its forces throughout the Middle East.
This is something that Israel will not tolerate, he said, and will take whatever action necessary in the event of any violation of the personal security of Israeli citizens.
Rivlin welcomed his Ukrainian counterpart on his return to Israel and Jerusalem, and said that over the last 25 years, Israel and Ukraine have developed close relations.
“The Free Trade Agreement will bring us even closer,” he said.
Rivlin also voiced appreciation for Ukraine’s stand against Hamas in the United Nations, and expressed the hope that Ukraine would also speak up on behalf of Israel in the UN Human Rights Council.
Rivlin thanked Poroshenko for his support in the fight against antisemitism, as well as for establishing a museum at Babi Yar, where more than 33,000 Jews were massacred during the Holocaust.
Rivlin, who had gone out to stand at the entrance to the pergola in the President’s Residence grounds to greet Poroshenko, walked into the reception hall with his arm around the shoulder of the Ukrainian president.
Poroshenko said he was pleased to be “the guest of my friend, the president of Israel.”
He emphasized more than once during the meeting that Ukraine and Israel "have great coordination," and he thanked Israel for having supported Ukraine’s independence.
He congratulated both countries on the FTA, saying that they had been waiting for it for a long time.
“Our people must understand that we must remove barriers and sign documents for better economic relations,” he said, noting that Israel is Ukraine’s second largest trading partner.
In the message that he signed in the guest book, he wrote that Ukraine and Israel have a considerable scope for future cooperation, and that he was confident that Monday’s meetings would further contribute to strengthening relations between the two countries.