Australia/Israel Review, Featured


Editorial: Ukraine and the Israel obsession

Mar 29, 2022 | Colin Rubenstein

Residents of Irpin, Ukraine flee their city in the wake of Russian bombing on March 9, 2022 (Image: Shutterstock)
Residents of Irpin, Ukraine flee their city in the wake of Russian bombing on March 9, 2022 (Image: Shutterstock)

At a time when Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has created millions of refugees, levelled cities and killed untold numbers of Ukrainian civilians, it’s remarkable how much critical commentary on the war seems to be focused on Israel – a tiny country far removed, both geographically and geopolitically, from the fighting.

Many Palestinians and their supporters have tried to compare their grievances to the plight of Ukrainians in an effort to exploit the wave of global outrage towards Russia. In claims widely made in both social and regular media, they would have you believe that, damn the facts, Israel’s defensive military actions and “occupation of Palestine” are no different to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression. 

As Ahron Shapiro demonstrates in this month’s AIR, there is no parallel whatsoever. 

In fact, a more reasonable analogy to make is between Putin’s determined rejection of Ukraine’s right to exist, and similar assertions regarding Israel from both Hamas and elements of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Indeed, even while they have been trying to hitch their propaganda cart to the Ukrainian wagon, the Palestinian leadership hasn’t been giving embattled Ukraine much in the way of diplomatic support. The PA has declared itself neutral over the war, while Hamas hastily issued a statement saying a quote attributed to its leader Khaled Mashaal calling for Russia to stop the invasion had been “fabricated”. 

Yet, even beyond the obsessions of the anti-Israel brigade, Israel’s response to the war has come under the microscope in a way that hardly any other country’s has, but it has largely managed to navigate responsibly through a difficult position. While Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has condemned Russia strongly, and Israel has supported a condemnatory resolution at the UN, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been more circumspect in his comments to allow himself to conduct shuttle diplomacy between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – with Ukraine’s blessing and gratitude – to try to find a way to end hostilities.

Israel has flung open its doors to Jewish refugees of the war, including options for permanent resettlement, and is providing temporary haven for thousands of non-Jewish refugees. On the ground, Israel has delivered more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid and became the first outside country to open a field hospital in Ukraine.

From a security standpoint, Israel’s handling of Russia is necessarily complex, as it must delicately balance Israel’s instinctive desire to stand strong morally with its US and European allies with its crucial need to maintain freedom of operation to strike Iranian bases in Syria. Russia has had control over the skies of Syria since 2015, after the US effectively abandoned the field in 2014. Also, Israel has an interest in safeguarding the welfare of substantial Russian and Ukrainian Jewish communities.

Compared to other similar sized countries, Israel is doing its part, and indeed has surprisingly become a key peace facilitator and mediator. Perhaps Jerusalem could do more, as many in Israel argue it should – and it probably will – but a little perspective is in order. 

It is curious that there is so much media focus on Israel, and what it is and is not doing with respect to the Ukraine crisis – and so little on vastly larger and more important countries like India and Brazil, which unlike Israel, have insisted on remaining strictly neutral and avoiding criticising Russia at all. 

The disproportionate attention given to Israel’s actions during this war is not just simply unfair to Israel, it is also entirely unhelpful to the overarching military goal of stopping the advance of the Russian army – which is threatening both millions of innocent Ukrainians, and the pillars of the global international order.

The unseemly and judgmental scrutiny that has been placed on Israel’s role, or non-role, in the Ukraine crisis to a great extent mirrors the disproportionate, often grossly distorted and hypercritical attention Israel routinely receives across the international stage, especially at the UN, and among prominent left-wing NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

For instance, despite the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, Amnesty has nonetheless continued to prioritise campaigning against “apartheid Israel”, based on its absurd report released in early February – which built on errors of omission, fact, law and basic logic to claim Israel has been an apartheid state since its foundation. Amnesty’s obsessiveness and irrationality on the subject was further highlighted by a widely-condemned speech given on March 9 by Paul O’Brien, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, in which he insisted that “Amnesty takes no political views on any question,” but that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”

These trends are evident in Australia as well, where Amnesty International has recently co-sponsored an event with the Palestinian lobby group Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) and, as Naomi Levin writes in this issue of AIR, the discriminatory Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel now apparently enjoys the support of at least major elements of the Australian Greens.

If there is one obvious lesson from the nakedly illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it is that the international order and system of international law are under serious threat from malign actors. Russia is the most obvious, but others include China and Iran, both of which have tacitly backed Russia’s narrative justifying the invasion. 

This profound threat demands a new seriousness from the international community and international institutions if there is to be any hope of preserving this international order on which ongoing prosperity and global security depend. The anti-Israel obsessions at the UN, in major international NGOs like Amnesty, and in the wider “what about Palestine” ideological movement, are the absolute opposite of such seriousness. 

This one-eyed obsessiveness must be confronted and marginalised if there is to be any hope of mustering the resolve and steadfast purpose to address what really matters. And that is the world struggling to preserve a stable international order, anchored by US-led open, democratic societies, in the face of the major threat to it represented by Russia and other rogue actors. 

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