Israel Owes Ukraine Nothing

Zelensky steps in it with a Holocaust analogy

Jewish Ukrainian refugees arrive in Tel Aviv / Getty Images

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been heroic since Russia invaded his country last month, and his skillful communication on his country's behalf has been an integral part of that heroism.

But the Ukrainian leader had us rubbing our eyes over the weekend when he bungled an attempt to rally Israel to the Ukrainian cause by comparing the war against his own population to … the Holocaust.

Zelensky's argument: Israel has a moral obligation to aid his country because righteous Ukrainians aided Jews during the Second World War.

His remarks landed with a thud in Israel, where lawmakers have a firm grasp of Jewish history and know damn well that there were far more Ukrainians who eagerly participated in Hitler's slaughter than there were righteous gentiles who tried to save their Jewish countrymen. In fact, the perpetrators at the massacre of Baba Yar, which killed 33,771 Jewish civilians over two days, were primarily Ukrainians.

The same cannot be said for how Zelensky’s remarks were received by some in our own country, where historically illiterate analogies pollute our politics. Lawmakers and journalists alike wasted no time seizing them to bludgeon and shame the Jewish state and to snipe at America's alliance with it.

There was Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), who tweeted on Sunday that Israel's response to the Ukraine crisis "will have bearing on future aid from the US to Israel." There was Russiagate all-star Benjamin Wittes, who declared, "After 70 years of 'Never Again,' the Israeli state's reaction to an invasion of a democratic and peaceable country, in which the aggressor is committing both resort to force and jus in bello crimes is to … mediate. It is not defensible." And there was the journalist Matt Yglesias of the Emirati-backed news outlet Grid, who whined, "The fact that none of America's Middle Eastern client states will do anything we want in the middle of a major crisis seems relevant to considering the amount of assistance we should give them with their Iran problems." (Then again, maybe he was talking about the Emiratis?)

Israel's security depends on an arrangement with Russia that allows Israel Defense Forces jets to strike Hezbollah arms shipments in Syria, and it is unconscionable to demand that the Jewish state endanger itself for the sake of Ukrainians based on a history rewritten to suit contemporary causes, however worthy they may be.

Israel doesn't owe Ukraine anything. Its sole obligation is to do what it can to help Ukrainian and Russian Jews who, having endured pogroms and slaughter and persecution, may yet seek the safety of the Jewish state.