Russia-Ukraine war: Is Israel’s response the moral choice? - opinion

I was shocked when initially our leaders remained “neutral” as innocent men, women and children were being bombed in Ukraine. 

 WHAT OF morality at a time like this? (photo credit: PIQSELS)
WHAT OF morality at a time like this?
(photo credit: PIQSELS)

As I write this piece, the ultimate result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not clear; yet, whatever the final outcome, I believe I am not alone in being caught between my perception of morality and what others perceive as rationale.

I have been glued to the TV these past weeks, watching as Putin’s Russia endeavors to occupy Ukraine. Putin has chosen Ukraine as the first step in his Hitler-like vision to take over other countries that were originally part of the former Soviet Union. 

The Russian dictator believed Ukraine would be a “pushover.” How wrong he was as he faced a population, inspired by the leadership of their Jewish President Zelensky, who would rather face death than allow Russia to take over their democratic way of life. The resistance has been little short of amazing, taking into consideration that – militarily – Ukraine stands alone. 

One wonders what the point is of NATO, or the UN, which make the “right” noises. But warm words alone do not win military battles. Yes, we are constantly reminded that if NATO physically participated on behalf of Ukraine (which is not a NATO member although they have applied for membership) it would lead to a world war. 

What if it had been a NATO country that was attacked? Would the reaction have been different? Surely the same argument could be made. The result would be the same as now, with civilians being killed, as too many are unable to find refuge. Does this ring bells? 

 Servicemen ride on a Russian Army military armoured vehicle with the letter 'Z' on it, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in the town of Armyansk, Crimea, February 24, 2022.  (credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS) Servicemen ride on a Russian Army military armoured vehicle with the letter 'Z' on it, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in the town of Armyansk, Crimea, February 24, 2022. (credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)

While there have been financial sanctions against Russia, they were too little and too late, enabling Russia to cushion itself in preparation. The sanctions should have been applied months ago when the world understood exactly what Putin had in mind. 

WHAT OF Israel’s reaction? I was shocked when initially our leaders remained “neutral” as innocent men, women and children were being bombed in Ukraine. 

True, the second time around, we voted at the UN against the Russian invasion. And yes, being neutral gave Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the opportunity to become a mediator between the two warring factions. But this too appears to have made little difference to the bombardment on Ukraine’s cities and Putin’s ultimate goal of occupying Ukraine. 

Our leaders constantly remind us that we must keep Russia sweet because, as the occupiers of Syria, they allow Israel to bomb Iranian armaments in that country. Do we truly believe we can trust a leader who is willingly sacrificing his own people in his bid to make Ukraine a Russian satellite? Can we trust a country that is demanding, in the current Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, that the US allow (without sanctions) all trade, military and otherwise, between Russia and Iran?

Have we not been there ourselves? What of moral values and just priorities at a time when the mighty well-equipped army of Russia is becoming more vicious by the day?

Personally, I cannot rid myself of the heartbreaking sight of a woman, about to give birth, being carried on a stretcher over the rubble of the maternity and children’s hospital in the besieged Mariupol, bombed during an agreed ceasefire. 

She was rushed to another hospital – but tragically both mother and baby died. The Associated Press reported that the mother arrived for surgery with a crushed pelvis and a displaced hip; the baby was delivered via a Caesarean section, but was born dead.

The West lost its moral compass when the US left Afghanistan to the Taliban; we see how Afghanistan has not only regressed democratically but its population is experiencing daily suffering.

As Jews, we should remember what happened during World War II. The Allies were aware of the gas chambers of Auschwitz, where more than one million humans were barbarically murdered. Yet the decision was not to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz because, we were told, the armies had to concentrate on winning the war.

September 1941, Kyiv. In the Babyn Yar area of the city, the German Nazis gathered together 34,000 Jews who thought they were to be resettled elsewhere. Instead, after removing all their valuables and stripping them of their clothes, they were systematically shot dead, leaving endless layers of bodies strewn over the ground.

March 2022 Kyiv. In Babyn Yar, the Russian invaders attacked the TV tower while simultaneously destroying the memorial to the 34,000 Jews shot dead in 1941.

Putin refers to Ukraine as a Nazi country, yet President Zelensky’s grandfather was a survivor of the Holocaust that claimed his three brothers. It’s not surprising to find that Zelensky signed on to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

If any country should understand what it is to confront enemies alone, surely Israel is in the forefront of experiencing isolation time and again in its brief existence – whether during the War of Independence when, as a fledgling state, we were left to confront the well-equipped Arab armies; or the lead up to the Six Day War when the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was expelled from the Sinai Peninsula, leading to a concentration of Egyptian forces there and finally the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. 

Simultaneously, there was a buildup of Jordanian, Iraqi, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanese forces that moved toward the Israeli border. Living in the UK at the time, I became an avid listener to Chaim Herzog’s radio updates on the situation, and was not alone in feeling this was the end of Israel. How shocked and disappointed we were that no country was ready to help to defend us. 

I watched and listened to Ukraine’s President Zelansky’s virtual address to the European Parliament as well as to the UK’s House of Commons for which he received standing ovations. But where was the military assistance to help his brave – many civilian – warriors?

Zelensky is crying out for military aid such as Iron Dome batteries which, unfortunately, Israel halted the US from transferring to Ukraine fearing it would harm our relationship with Russia. 

Russia – where journalists are fleeing from the country that no longer permits open reporting and has shut down its Twitter and Facebook media outlets; the country where brave protesters in Russian streets are physically beaten and locked up; the country that attacks nuclear facilities without thought of another Chernobyl. Is this the country that Israel can trust? 

What of morality at a time like this? And who more appropriate to quote than the great Rabbi Hillel. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?  ■

The writer is chairperson of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. She is also Public Affairs chair of ESRA, which promotes immigrant integration into Israeli society. The views expressed are hers alone.