Since the conflict began, Israel has received over 1,500 Jews from Ukraine, where around 43,000 Jews live.
On 20 March, through a recorded institutional declaration addressed to MPs, ministers and deputy ministers, as agreed between the President of the Israeli Parliament and the Ukrainian embassy in Israel, the Ukrainian leader asked the Jewish state for “help'.
“It is possible to mediate between countries, but not between good and evil. Why can't we receive weapons from you? Why doesn't Israel apply serious sanctions against Russia?”, asked Zelenski in a dramatic tone.
So far, the Israeli government has formally condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, calling it “a serious violation of international order" and assuring its willingness to “provide humanitarian aid to the citizens of Ukraine”.
However, the Jewish government has shown no willingness to intervene more directly in the conflict.
“Russia has a large military presence in Syria, and very close to Israel. But the Russian Air Force has not interfered when Israeli forces are sent to destroy Iran's attempts to bring more rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, or to establish bases next to our borders which would then be used for terror attacks”, explains Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.
On the other hand, he adds, “the Ukraine conflict has helped bring Turkey closer to Israel. The Turkish leadership is also worried about Russia becoming too powerful and limiting their actions”.
Beyond strategic geopolitical issues, the focus is on the victims of a war that has already left 2,072 dead, 71 of them children, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
So far, Israel has welcomed just over 1,500 Jews from Ukraine. In total, about 43,000 people in Ukraine identify as Jews, although the European Jewish Congress estimates that 400,000 Ukrainians are technically eligible for Israeli citizenship.
“Evangelical Christians in Israel have been following the conflict in Ukraine with intense concern, especially since 50% of all Messianic congregations here are Russian speaking and most Hebrew speaking congregations have congregants of Russian or Ukrainian heritage", tells Spanish news website Protestante Digital the President of the Evangelical Alliance of Israel, Danny Kopp.
Kopp points out that “Arab evangelicals in Israel often have Russian and Ukrainian friends as well. No surveys of evangelical opinions regarding the conflict have been conducted in Israel, but from conversations with believers it appears that attitudes tend to reflect those of the nation”.
“Israelis are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the plight of Ukrainians in this conflict and condemn Putin's invasion as barbaric and unjustified”, he stresses.
Nevertheless, “there is a sizable minority of Russian speaking Jews and Christians alike, usually older, who consume mostly Russian state media and are swayed by its propaganda. This has indeed caused deep tensions and divisions, even within families and among friends”.
Israel, Ukraine and Russia share strong historical ties. Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was born in Kyiv, as was her predecessor, Levi Eshkol. And Menachem Beguin was born in the Belarusian city of Brest-Litovsk.
“There are still Jewish populations in both Ukraine and Russia, and many Israeli Jews have family connections until today. There are also many dual citizens who come and go, and many of them are in Ukraine today to help. As a result, the fighting and terrible destruction is a major issue” says Steinberg.
The professor explains that “most people support Ukraine, not Russia, partly because Israelis see the situation as similar to Israel's, particularly in 1948 when we were invaded and almost destroyed by 5 Arab armies, as Russia is trying to do to Ukraine. Israel fought back and succeeded, and this seems to be Ukraine's situation now”.
Kopp underlines that “while most Messianic Jews are sympathetic to Ukraine, they accept the position of the nation that Israel must avoid to actively opposing Russia's aggression in Ukraine so as not to jeopardize Israel's freedom to bomb Iranian weapon shipments to terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon where Russia controls the skies”.
“Israelis are also afraid of provoking latent antisemitism and endangering the relatively larger Jewish population”, he adds. A population of around 144,000 people, according to data from the demography departments of various Israeli universities.
Meanwhile, “Palestinian evangelicals are also mostly sympathetic to the Ukrainian struggle and some even go so far as to compare it to Israel's occupation of the West Bank while others are traditionally sympathetic to Russia as they see it as a protector of Christians in the Middle East”.
“Sadly, in my opinion, many of these perspectives are reflections of narrow national interests, distorted by crude propaganda, and lacking in moral clarity and courage”, adds the president of the Evangelical Alliance of Israel.
According to Kopp “there is a real personal risk and cost in safety and economic wellbeing to nations around the world which decide to support Ukraine and oppose Russia in this brutal war, but none of these compare to the price paid by ordinary Ukrainians, and the higher price we will all be forced to pay later for refusing to sacrifice a little now”.
In the video that Zelenski addressed to Israel's political leadership, he made a comparison between what is happening in Ukraine and the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, speaking of a “final solution” and accusing the Kremlin of “using Nazi party terminology against the Jews”.
“Zelensky's comparison was received with outright derision by some, and dismay even by the majority who are sympathetic to his cause. However most forgive Zelensky's exaggeration because of the desperate situation he is in and many are aware of the fact that even many Jews in the former Soviet Union received extremely limited education of the history of the holocaust and Jewish history and identity in general”, says Kopp.
For Steinberg, “Zelensky's comparison was a mistake. The systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its allies, including many Ukrainians, is not similar in any way, as many Israeli leaders and writers immediately declared”.
“Blurring the reality of the Holocaust will not change the tragedy of Ukraine now, and will not lead Israel to provide weapons. The fact that the day after he addressed the Israeli Parliament, he apologized for this part of his speech was also an important statement” concludes the professor.