Ukraine War Challenges Israel’s Relationship With Jews Worldwide
As Ukraine remains consumed by fierce fighting, fresh geopolitical calculations are taking shape worldwide. Jolted into action, European nations led by Germany have promised to increase their military budgets and impose harsh sanctions on Russia. Few countries have remained neutral about this conflict.
Given its “special friendship” with the United States, Israel’s tepid response to the crisis has surprised some analysts. While the Israeli foreign minister has condemned Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the official line from Tel Aviv has been remarkably muted. This ambiguity is all the more shocking considering Ukraine’s sizable Jewish population because it pits Israel’s understanding of the national interests of the Jewish people against the narrow interests of the Israeli state. The Ukrainian crisis demonstrates the limited extent to which Israel will place the interests of Jewish people above that of statecraft.
Since its founding, Israel has used the threat of global anti-Semitism as its raison d’etat. After the horrors of the genocide against Jews in Europe, the Jewish people cannot exist without a state and army of their own. This line of argument has proven to be remarkably useful for the Israeli government in defending its own aggression against Palestinians and other nations in the Middle East. Israel regularly invokes the interests of the Jewish people to explain its actions such as the occupation of East Jerusalem and the settlement of the biblical lands of the West Bank.
For millions of Jews living outside of Israel, their support for the country stems from a deep-seated feeling that Israel is their only refuge. If an outbreak of anti-Semitism forced them to flee, Israel would be there to protect them. Powerful pro-Israel advocacy groups such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) play on these emotions in order to drum up support for Israel’s political objectives and silence critics of Tel Aviv’s aggressive treatment of the Palestinians.
The Ukrainian crisis presents a fascinating challenge to this core tenet of Israeli propaganda because Ukraine is home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Eastern Europe. There are an estimated 50,000 practicing Jews in the country and Jewish life is visible from…