Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Zelenskyy has left us Israelis with a bad taste in our mouths. He’s a hero the world over, and we want to like him, too. But it’s difficult for Israelis to like him after the things he said in his address to the Israeli Knesset on Sunday. President Zelenskyy hit all the wrong notes, pointing an accusatory finger at Israel with one criticism after another.

Zelenskyy criticized Israel for not doing enough to help Ukraine, for not supplying the right kind of aid, for not applying pressure to Russian businesses. The Ukrainian president asserted that Ukrainians saved Jews during the Holocaust, while Jews have turned their backs on the Ukrainian people.

One can keep asking why we can't get weapons from you. Or why Israel has not imposed strong sanctions against Russia. Why it doesn’t put pressure on Russian business. But it is up to you, dear brothers and sisters, to choose the answer. And you will have to live with this answer, people of Israel.

Ukrainians have made their choice. Eighty years ago. They rescued Jews. That is why the Righteous Among the Nations are among us. People of Israel, now you have such a choice.

Ukrainians greeting arriving Germans in Western Ukraine in the summer of 1941

President Zelenskyy accused Israel of indifference, of refusing to choose sides, and of immorality, too, questioning whether Israel’s imagined inaction was premeditated, for which, he suggested, we’d one day be held to account in the final battle between good and evil.

Can you explain why we still turn to the whole world, to many countries for help? We ask you for your help? What is it? Indifference? Premeditation? Or mediation without choosing a party? I will leave you a choice of answer to this question. And I will note only one thing — indifference kills. Premeditation is often erroneous. Mediation between states is possible, but not between good and evil.

The worst part of Zelenskyy’s antagonistic speech, however, was when he called the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a repeat of the Final Solution.

When the Nazi party raided Europe and wanted to destroy everything. Destroy everyone and leave nothing from us, nothing from you. They called it ‘the final solution to the Jewish issue.'

You remember that. And I’m sure you will never forget! Listen to what is sounding now in Moscow. Hear how these words are said again: ‘Final solution.’ But already in relation, so to speak, to us, to the ‘Ukrainian issue.'

This is a distortion of the truth. The Final Solution was an attempt to eradicate a people. Putin is not looking for that. It’s not his goal. What he wants is to capture territory. Putin doesn’t care how many Ukrainians he has to murder in order to recapture Ukraine. But his actions are only about recapturing Ukraine. The killing is indiscriminate.

The goal of Hitler, on the other hand, was to kill all Jews dead. Hitler had his men hunt the Jews down, one by one. His soldiers kept count of every murdered Jew, recording the names and dates of each Jew they killed. Hitler transported Jews to death camps in windowless cattle cars so packed, the occupants could not sit down. Once at the camps, Jews deemed incapable of work were gassed and burned straight from the cars. The remainder were worked almost to death before being gassed and burned like the other Jews before them.

Now that was systematic genocide, with the Final Solution a means to an end: ridding the world of that eternal problem, the Jew. And far from making the right “choice,” the Ukrainians pitched right in. Ukraine did not save its Jews. It helped to murder them.

From the Jewish Press:

There were an estimated 40 million Ukrainians when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Between 1.2 and 1.6 million Jews were murdered over the next few years, with the enthusiastic collaboration of the vast, vast majority of Ukrainian civilians. Ukraine as a whole was delighted to see the extermination of its Jews. And here is the number of Ukrainian righteous among the nations who saved Jews, according to Yad Vashem: 2,619.

As shocking as these numbers are, scratch the surface, and you’ll find more Ukrainian antisemitism. Let us go back, for example to 1648 and the Chmielnicki Uprising (emphasis added).

Bogdan Chmielnicki, leader of the Cossack and peasant uprising against Polish rule in the Ukraine in 1648 which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities . . . 

In the course of their campaigns Chmielnicki's followers acted with savage and unremitting cruelty against the Jews. . .

In the annals of the Jewish people, Chmielnicki is branded as "Chmiel the Wicked," one of the most sinister oppressors of the Jews of all generations, the initiator of the terrible 1648–49 massacres (gezerot ta ve-tat). The Jewish population of Ukraine had been an active factor in colonizing the steppes before the massacres. Many Jews settled in the villages, and were occupied as lessees (see *arenda ) or administrators of the estates of the nobles; they also played a role in developing the towns and in their armed defense at times of danger. However, as agents of the Polish nobles and Polish rule, they incurred the hatred of the Ukrainian serfs. Both Polish and Ukrainian modern antisemitic historiography has attempted to attribute the overwhelming responsibility for the terrible bloodshed during the rebellion on the Jewish lessee and agent, thus justifying the singular cruelty directed against the Jews. But the reports of Jewish persecution of the peasants, or offenses against their religious feelings caused by the lease of churches to the Jews, find no confirmation whatsoever in the sources. . . .

It was during the months of May to November 1648 that most of the massacres took place. At the beginning of the uprising, the communities east of the Dnieper were immediately destroyed. Those Jews who did not manage to escape or join the Polish army of Wisniowiecki on its retreat westward met violent deaths; some converted to Christianity to save their lives; many were seized by the Tatars and sold into slavery. During the summer, the persecutions spread to the western bank of the Dnieper and by the middle of June there were no more Jews in the villages and the open cities.

The first large-scale massacre took place in Nemirov, into which the Cossacks penetrated in the disguise of Polish soldiers. Jews died en masse as martyrs when faced with the demand that they convert to Christianity: "They arrived … as if they had come with the Poles … in order that he open the gates of the fortress … and they succeeded … and they massacred about 6,000 souls in the town … and they drowned several hundreds in the water and by all kinds of cruel torments. In the synagogue, before the Holy Ark, they slaughtered with butchers' knives … after which they destroyed the synagogue and took out all the Torah books … they tore them up … and they laid them out … for men and animals to trample on … they also made sandals of them … and several other garments" ( *Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen , Megillah Afah). . .

It is impossible to determine accurately the number of victims who perished, but it undoubtedly amounted to tens of thousands; the Jewish chronicles mention 100,000 killed and 300 communities destroyed.

This is the Ukraine we know. The Ukraine we know did not save the Jews during the Holocaust, but were eager, active participants in the shedding of Jewish blood. The Ukraine we know, still lauds Bogdan Chmielnicki, sees him as a Ukrainian hero, and named a Ukrainian military honor after him, the Order of Bogdan Chmielnicki. Two weeks ago, in fact, Zelenskyy awarded the mayors of embattled Ukrainian cities with just this military honor.

Today I decided to award orders to the heads of regional administrations and mayors who have excelled in the defence of their communities.

The Order of Bogdan Chmielnicki of the Third Degree is awarded to:

Head of Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleh Vasyliovych Syniehubov.

Head of Mykolaiv Regional State Administration Vitalii Oleksandrovych Kim.

Head of Donetsk Regional State Administration Pavlo Oleksandrovych Kyrylenko.

Head of Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Volodymyrovych Haidai.

Head of Chernihiv Regional State Administration Vyacheslav Anatoliyovych Chaus.

Head of Sumy Regional State Administration Dmytro Oleksiyovych Zhyvytskyi.

I asked Katarina Matlin, my expatriate Ukrainian friend, to verify the above translation and she did so, commenting that Chmielnicki is a revered figure in Ukraine.

“The Chmielnicki award is the Ukrainian military award for bravery. To Ukrainians, it’s no different than Americans giving an award in the name of George Washington. Chmielnicki is celebrated as a war hero. There are statues of him all over Ukraine, streets named after him, his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. We used to read poetry about him in Ukrainian class.

“The president, irrespective of ethnicity, wouldn’t pick that as a hill to die on.”

Kyiv monument memorializing Bogdan Chmielnicki

And still, we have to wonder at the inaction of a Jew in power who does nothing to alter the fact that a Ukrainian military award is named after Chmielnicki, a man whose name is synonymous with Jewish bloodshed. But Zelenskyy’s Judaism is selective. When he wants a favor, he’s Jewish. The rest of the time, he’s like every other (antisemitic) Ukrainian.

Portrait of Bogdan Chmielnicki

Katarina reminded me that Western Ukrainians formed fighting units and fought alongside the Nazis. “Their biggest achievement was murdering the vast majority of Ukrainian Jews, including my family. Most guards in the concentration camps were Ukrainians.”

John Demjanjuk in the photo for his Trawniki card.

Many Jews are willing to let history slide, to let bygones be bygones, to empathize with the Ukrainian people under siege. These empathetic Jews say that was then, this is now.

Katarina, however, says otherwise:

“Their antisemitism today is as rampant as ever. They’re already blaming Jews for this war, just like they’ve blamed us for everything else over the millennia. Cossacks are celebrated as a part of Ukrainian heritage just like American cowboys are celebrated in the US. I had Cossack action figures growing up. It’s no different than American kids playing with GI Joe. Anti-Semitism is so ‘normal’ in Ukrainian history that it doesn’t even get a side note.”

None of this should surprise any Jewish person anywhere. And this is precisely why Zelenskyy’s address to Israel was so bad. His words only added fuel to the Ukrainian antisemitism that is already  on fire, and spreading fast to the rest of the world. Even those who traditionally support Israel, are now reprimanding her, and trying to force her into acting against her own best interests. This sort of criticism may not be antisemitism, but it certainly fans the flames of hate.

Zelenskyy’s own criticisms of Israel began way before his most recent address. Zelenskyy earlier accused Prime Minister Bennett of disloyalty, asserting that Bennett had not “wrapped himself in the Ukrainian flag.” At every possible turn it seems, Zelenskyy has examined Israel and found her wanting.

It is now an unavoidable conclusion that criticism of Israel from Ukrainian officials over the past several weeks has come from the top down. From the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel finding fault with Israeli aid and Israel’s handling of Ukrainian refugees, to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accusing El Al of evading sanctions by accepting payments “soaked in Ukrainian blood,” it’s all a part of the antisemitic party line. The Ukrainian fish, like every other fish, rots from the head down.

Israel might have hoped that President Zelenskyy, being a Jew himself, might refrain from fomenting another Chmielnicki-style Uprising. Instead, the hate begins with Zelenskyy, trickling down to the others to a man. Zelenskyy may not be motivated by antisemitism, but unfortunately, he inspires it in others.

Zelenskyy has put Israel between a rock and a hard place. Do we choose the Ukrainians, or protect ourselves from Hezbollah and Iran? Do we jump to follow the commands of a Jew who marries out, baptizes his kids, and then pulls the Jew card in an effort to get the Jews to cough up whatever he demands, regardless of the precarious situation it would put us in, were we to fulfill them?

For most Israelis, there’s no contest. We choose to protect our own people from terror and worse over the things Zelenskyy wants us to do for a people with a long and well known history of antisemitic cruelty.

We realize that the Ukrainian president may not even be conscious of the fact that he is exciting Jew-hatred in his countrymen and the world. For him, it is not intentional. It’s just a way of life. From Zelenskyy’s perspective, Judaism is a cudgel he can wield against Israel’s tender brow to get what he wants and needs for his people. He may not know he is feeding the hate. But he also may not care. Much as Putin will, without a care, kill as many Ukrainians as necessary to capture Ukraine.

To the entire world, Zelenskyy is a hero. But to Israel, Zelenskyy is a threat, illustrating an unfortunate truth: one can be Jewish and still be a casual antisemite.

Or worse.

Read all about it here!

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