Friday, 20 May 2022

And the Wooden Spoon goes to…

As usually while driving, I was listening to LBC (yes, I know: I’m a sad, sad person!)  In truth, I had rather switched off from the annoying chatter and was focusing on driving – when I suddenly heard the words “former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn”.  And indeed, Corbyn’s voice started to unpleasantly scratch my eardrums, as he muddled through his usual ‘spiel’.  It was immediately after the latest local elections and the author of Labour’s most catastrophic electoral defeat in 84 years proceeded to ‘analyse’ the results and volunteer his opinions.  I could almost hear Starmer’s groan and Johnson’s merriment.  Like a bad smell, some people just don’t go away!

A few days later, also on LBC, I noticed that Tony Blair was still around, as well: to Starmer’s sheer despair he, too, was volunteering his advice!

I was reminded about all that, when I recently read an article by Vivian Wineman.  Like the two men above, Mr. Wineman is also a ‘has been’ – though one of much less consequence in the big scheme of things: he was, once upon a time, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

No, don’t feel sorry for me: even a sad person like me does not follow the ruminations of Vivian Wineman.  A friend brought his article to my attention, by posting a link to it on Facebook, under the comment:

“I’m quite ashamed of my Past President. This piece is truly appalling.”

This piqued my curiosity and I proceeded to read Mr. Wineman’s contribution, entitled “Jewish Anti-Zionists Holders of the Wooden Spoon?”  Not all my readers are British, so I feel I should explain: the Wooden Spoon is a symbol of failure – it is mockingly awarded to the side that finishes last in the Six Nations rugby tournament.

But don’t let that fool you: the key part of Mr. Wineman’s title is… the question mark at its end.

True, he jokingly says that he decided to write about Jewish anti-Zionists because

“I and my family have always been attracted by losers…”

(He should’ve told us that before being elected President of the Board!)

In reality, however, his article reads to me (and to quite a few other people I consulted) conspicuously like an attempt to whitewash (or ‘rehabilitate’, or perhaps legitimise) Jewish anti-Zionism.

Why would he do that?  Well, Mr. Wineman was always a ‘progressive’; no, not in terms of shul affiliation, but of political inclination.  He chaired far-left outfits like Peace Now and New Israel Fund and is currently, I believe, an ardent sympathiser of Yachad – a group of activists claiming to be ‘pro-Israel’, but whose only aim seems to be turning British Jews from supporters of the Jewish state into harsh ‘critics’ thereof.

As an aside: it has always been my observation that the only thing ‘progressive’ about far-leftists is their progressive antipathy towards Israel.  As an example, take Peter Beinart: once upon a time, he used to call himself a Zionist, albeit of the ‘liberal’ variety.  Since then, he has ‘progressed’ to non-Zionism, before becoming an ardent anti-Zionist keen on dismantling the Jewish state.  Yachad (who also used to call themselves ‘liberal Zionists’ – albeit not in recent times of course) have not gone so far yet.  (At least not overtly – they’d be shunned by the entire British Jewish community if they did; though their 'spirited defence' of the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ seems to betray their true feelings.)

Yachad and New Israel Fund 'celebrated' Israel's 74th Independence Day by... more 'criticism' of the Jewish state. Now, I'm no expert in physiognomy, but it seems to me that the face in the left bottom corner is Mr. Wineman's. What do you think?


One of the fundamental errors of judgment that such ‘progressives’ make is to imagine that, by dropping early 20th century anti-Zionists into the conversation, they can somehow legitimise the current ones.  That is, of course, ludicrous.  In 1917, one could still legitimately (albeit wrongly in hindsight) argue against what was still a project in relative infancy.  Should a Jewish state be constituted sometime in the future – or better not?  Today, the State of Israel exists.  It is not just a tangible reality, but the home of the world’s largest, youngest and healthiest Jewish community.  Contemporary anti-Zionists do not debate the merits of a future project; they propose to dismantle an existing, sovereign state (and only one!).  They are at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the fate of that community.

But let’s go back to Mr. Wineman and his treatment of anti-Zionist Jews.  He starts by stating the obvious (though he rather tendentiously downgrades it to “generally accepted”):

“Zionism has swept the board inside the Jewish community...”

I find myself forced to agree, for once, with Mr. Wineman.  Not because the fact is “generally accepted”, but because it is well-documented: every opinion poll ever undertaken shows that, for the vast majority of British Jews, Israel is a major (and often the major) component of their Jewish identity.

Mr. Wineman goes on to say that

“If a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for instance, were to stand up at a meeting and say that he does not believe in God, eats ham on Yom Kippur and thinks the Bible contains nothing but bubba mayses- old wives [sic!] tails [sic!], there would be distaste maybe, but nothing further and certainly, no calls for expulsion. If our mischievous deputy were to stand up the next month and declare that he did not believe that there should be a State of Israel or even only that he was a supporter of BDS against it, there would be immediate calls for his censure or expulsion.”

Is this, as Mr. Wineman would probably claim, an example of how Zionism “has swept the board”?  It sounds rather like a complaint to me.

In fact, the different treatment of the two ‘transgressions’ in Wineman’s ‘example’ is entirely understandable.  Renowned researcher and Zionist activist David Collier put it much better than I could:

“One [rejecting God, eating pork] is a personal choice that affects only him – and the other [anti-Zionism] harms the well-being of millions of Jews living in the Jewish state.”

Perhaps subconsciously, Wineman (who was once educated in a yeshivah) used the English words “censure” and “expulsion”.  They may be taken as translations of the old Hebrew terms kherem  (חרם)and niddui(נדוי) , which are part of the Jewish law and were used in pre and post-exilic Judaism.  These ‘sanctions’ were originally conceived not as punishment for the transgressing individual (such punishment was expected to come from God, rather than from people), but as a prophylactic measure, aimed at protecting the community from the dire consequences of the transgression and from its harmful proliferation.

After conceding that Zionism is widely embraced by Jews, Wineman goes on to claim that

“It was not always so. Just over a century ago in the years leading up to the Balfour Declaration antizionists were in control of the leading streams of British Jewry; the ultra orthodox [sic!], the mainstream orthodox [sic!], Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism.”

In passing: if Wineman wanted to list “the leading streams…” in “the years leading up…”, it seems to me that he should have capitalised ‘Orthodox’, just as he did with ‘Reform’ and ‘Liberal’.  This is not me supporting orthodoxy, but orthography!  Mr. Wineman may also wish to make up his mind whether he wishes to refer to anti-Zionists (as he did in the title), or do away with the hyphen.  Consistency in presentation might eventually result in logical arguments – one never knows!

More importantly, though: isn’t “in control of” a rather weird (and, I’d suggest, dishonest) argument to make?  Why not just say (as others try to claim sometimes) ‘the majority of Jews opposed Zionism’?  Because, as Wineman knows (and, I suspect, tries to hide), that simply would not be true.  We only need to read the following personal account by historian Simon Schama.  Describing British Jewry’s reaction to the Balfour Declaration, Schama writes:

[W]hen the document was made public by the Zionist Federation, my father saw […] singing and dancing erupt in the streets of the East End, from Mile End to Whitechapel. Something propitious, something providential, had happened, but also something against the odds.

[…]

That East End street party — ‘a kosher knees-up’, Dad called it, lots of fried fish, cake and shouting — was all instinct and no thought, but then sometimes instincts are the real story. Arthur remembered the ‘Hatikvah’ being sung outside a synagogue close to the family house. A month later the same song brought the crowd to their feet in the Royal Opera House. My father stood outside amid a huge throng beside sacks of the next day’s cabbages.”

But that’s not the story that Mr. Wineman favours.  Instead, he writes

“They also dominated the Jewish establishment.  While often supporting Jewish settlement in Israel they were opposed to any attempt to create a political entity for them there.”

The ‘they’ in the passage above refers to anti-Zionists.  But the word that troubles me is ‘also’.  What else, did the anti-Zionists dominate?  They were part of the establishment, while the Jewish masses by-and-large supported Zionism.

Here’s Schama again, still writing about his father:

“He knew all about the Jewish opposition: anti-Zionists, the grandees of the Anglo-Jewish Association and the Conjoint Committee — Claude Montefiore and those Rothschilds, Leopold in particular — who were on the wrong side of the argument.  He was especially horrified by the public accusation of Edwin Montagu, one of the two Jewish members of the Cabinet (the other was the pro-Zionist Herbert Samuel), that the Balfour Declaration was tantamount to being anti-Semitic, since in Montagu’s eyes it presupposed divided loyalties, especially heinous during the war. Others among the anti-Zionist lobby felt the same way, in particular the historian Lucien Wolf, who had actually been questioned about his true nationality by a policeman in 1915 and never quite got over it.

For my father, the defensiveness of the anti-Zionists was a symptom of the gulf dividing West End Jews from East End Jews. The declaration’s 67 words, he thought, could be boiled down to one — the word “home”, bayit.  It was all very well for the likes of Edwin Montagu to complain that their indivisible sense of a British home was now vulnerable to charges of divided allegiance, but Montagu’s home was manorial: avenues of oak and elm, game birds flushed from the bracken, dropping to Home Counties guns.”

And here is Wineman, still talking about anti-Zionists:

“Their writings, though unsuccessful in the long term, were of high quality.  An outstanding member was Edwin Montagu PC, Secretary of State for India and the third Jew to reach cabinet office in this country.”

Isn’t it sad to see a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman trying to ‘sell’ the selfish machinations of a few ‘Jewish barons’ and community makhers who – then, just like today – ran contrary to what the masses wanted?

Edwin Montagu’s stubborn opposition to the Balfour Declaration is well known.  But the reason his efforts (and those of others like him) were unsuccessful” (not just “in the long term”, but then and there) is that British politicians like Balfour and Lloyd George knew very well that those anti-Zionists were utterly unrepresentative, that they spoke only for a tiny number of privileged Jews.  In fact, Balfour understood that Zionism was being embraced by the Jewish masses – and not just in Britain.  Speaking at a meeting of the War Cabinet in October 1917, he opined that

“The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as, indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable to Zionism.”

I’d say it’s ironic that a Conservative politician like Balfour was attuned to the aspirations of the “vast majority of Jews”, while a century later a ‘progressive’ like Mr. Wineman is still more concerned with what “the establishment” wanted.  But then, another ‘progressive’ once said that Zionists like me just don’t get English irony…

I don’t know much about Mr. Wineman’s grasp of English irony (though I don’t suspect him of Zionism).  But as for the rigour of his research… his article causes me great concerns in that respect.  Because, even if we were to ignore the popular feeling, the picture of Jewish establishment’s attitude to Zionism is itself much more complex than the one he paints.

It is not true that that “establishment” (or the leadership of the British Jewish community) was uniformly opposed to Zionism.  Some were – such as Mr. Wineman’s distant predecessor, Board of Deputies President David Lindo Alexander.  Others, however (such as Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz) were dedicated supporters of Zionism.

In May 1917, Lindo Alexander published a letter in the Times, which attacked the main tenets of Zionism.  He admitted (and how could he deny it) that

“The Holy Land is necessarily of profound and undying interest for all Jews, as the cradle of their religion, the main theatre of Bible history, and the site of its sacred memorials.  It is not, however, as a mere shrine or place of pilgrimage that they regard the country.  Since the dawn of their political emancipation in Europe the Jews have made rehabilitation of the Jewish community in the Holy Land one of their chief cares, and they have always cherished the hope that the result of their labours would be the regeneration on Palestinian soil of a Jewish community worthy of the great memories and of the environment, and a source of spiritual inspiration to the whole of Jewry.”

But then

“Meanwhile the committee have learnt from the published statements of the Zionist leaders in this country that they now favour a much larger scheme of an essentially political character.”

And what was wrong with that “scheme”?  Well, Lindo Alexander went on to explain that Jews do not regard themselves as a people and have no national aspirations; they see themselves as just “a religious community”, on a par “with their fellow citizens of other creeds”.  Though in fairness he did assign that opinion not to Jews in general, but only to [e]mancipated Jews” – which we might probably translate in today’s parlance as ‘progressives’.  Plus ça change…

So far, the story of Lindo Alexander and his letter would seem to support Mr. Wineman’s contentions.  But only if we ignore the end of that story: just a few days later, the Times published a rebuttal penned by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz.  Hertz dismissed the opinions of Lindo Alexander and of his ‘sponsor’ and co-signatory Claude Montefiore as unrepresentative of and inconsistent with

“the views held by Anglo-Jewry as a whole or by the Jewries of the overseas dominions.”

And not just the Chief Rabbi: on 17 June 1917, Lindo Alexander’s letter was formally condemned by the Board of Deputies; he was forced to resign.  So much for Mr. Wineman’s assertion that “immediate calls for […] censure or expulsion” of anti-Zionists are a relatively new phenomenon at the Board!

And so much for his contention that the Jewish establishment” was “dominated” by anti-Zionists.  In fact, Mr. Wineman’s sole ‘example’ of Jewish anti-Zionist (Edwin Montagu) cannot really be said to have been part of “the Jewish establishment”.  As a Member of Parliament and Minister, he was certainly part of the British establishment – but his interest in Jewish community affairs (insofar as those affairs did not impinge on his own) is questionable.

But let’s move on: still speaking about Jewish anti-Zionists (or on their behalf?), Mr. Wineman says:

“On a practical level they saw Zionism as stimulus to antisemitism and as an obstacle to their great project of emancipation.”

While admitting that they were wrong on both accounts, Wineman still informs us that

“The decades following the Balfour Declaration saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism the world has ever seen. It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism.”

Now, this is a very misleading way to put it.  If I said, for instance, ‘The years after Mr. Wineman’s Presidency of the Board of Deputies saw the rise of the most frightful antisemitism’ – many an unsuspecting reader may understand, whatever the other protestations, that one event led to the other.

No, it would not be “very hard” to attribute the rise in antisemitism to Zionism – it would be impossible for any researcher endowed with intellectual honesty.  In fact, the opposite has been argued: that the rise in antisemitism (especially in Europe and parts of the Muslim world) lent Zionism credibility as the solution to ‘the Jewish problem’.

Let me mention just a few ‘milestones’ that preceded the 1917 Balfour Declaration:

  • In 1840, the blood libel is employed against the Jews of Damascus.  Some community leaders are tortured to death.  The survivors are eventually exonerated, but the population nevertheless perpetrates several pogroms.
  • In 1882, another blood libel case is launched in Hungary.  The accused Jews are eventually acquitted, but the effects of the resulting antisemitic propaganda linger and fester.
  • In 1894 (i.e. 3 years before the First Zionist Congress) Captain Alfred Dreyfus is convicted of treason, after an inquiry and trial with strong antisemitic undertones.
  • In 1909, the British Vice Consul in Mosul remarks:

“The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.”

  • Between 1821 and 1906, hundreds of pogroms were perpetrated throughout Jewish-inhabited areas of the Russian Empire.  Thousands of Jews were murdered – alongside rapes and other atrocities.
  • In 1910, another blood libel incident takes place in Shiraz, Iran.  In the ensuing pogrom, 12 Jews are murdered, 50 are injured and the entire Jewish quarter is pillaged.

It is these occurrences of pre-1917 “frightful antisemitism” (especially the pogroms in Eastern Europe) that explain the apparently contradictory position of anti-Zionists like Lindo Alexander.  As Wineman himself hints (and as the Times letter proves), they supported the return of Jews to the Holy Land; they only opposed self-determination for those Jews.  Why this ‘nuanced’ stance?  Because of the pogroms and the antisemitic policies of the Russian tsars, Jews were fleeing Eastern Europe in large numbers – and many sought to take refuge in Britain.  That migration resulted in fast increase of Britain’s Jewish population: from 65,000 in 1880 to 300,000 in 1914.  Despite their sanctimonious protestations, the anti-Zionist Jews cared little about the Arab population of Palestine; their major concern was a potential rise in British antisemitism, one they feared might be ‘caused’ by a continued massive immigration of ‘unemancipated’ (ahem!) Eastern European Jews.  Sending those Jews to Palestine was a good solution insofar as it kept them away from Britain; but not if they built a ‘Jewish Home’: that might imply that the Jewish barons were not ‘at home’ in Britain.

After the misleading passage analysed above, Mr. Wineman proceeds to… argue back-and-forth with himself:

“It would be very hard, however, to attribute this to Zionism. Although the ultra orthodox anti Zionists do blame the Zionists and even specific Zionist leaders for the holocaust this argument is not taken seriously outside their circles. Among the lurid accusations made against Jews dual loyalty did not figure very prominently. The antisemitic charge was not that the jews had a loyalty to an emerging political entity in the Middle East but that they had aspirations for world government.”

Needless to say, only a tiny, extreme minority of Charedi anti-Zionists blame Zionists for the Shoah.  By the way, I use the term ‘Charedi’ (חרדי) because that’s how they choose to call themselves.  I don’t think that people (especially ‘progressives’ and even more so former Presidents of the Board!) should presume to label communities by names that are – at best – judgmental: let us remember that ultra-Orthodox (even when it’s spelled correctly) includes an element of censure; it means ‘extremely’ or ‘excessively’ Orthodox and that’s not how the people in question view themselves.

Otherwise, the muddled prose above is only remarkable by its careless presentation. After writing alternatively ‘anti-Zionists’ and ‘antizionists’, Mr. Wineman now decided to call them ‘anti Zionists’.  Jews also become ‘jews’ in the space of one sentence…

As a Yachad sympathiser (or active supporter?) Mr. Wineman simply cannot resist squeezing in a swipe at Israel – even in an article that purports to discuss pre-1917 attitudes.  He sets the scene rather sententiously:

“Political rights are a human entitlement, enshrined in numerous international conventions, not a gift from a merciful government for which the recipients must be duly grateful.”

He then goes on to accuse:

“Ironically the one democratic country where this does not apply is the State of Israel.  Arabs within Israel’s pre 1967 borders are full citizens automatically in accordance with Israel’s admirable constitution, but Arabs beyond those borders are not.”

This goes to show that it’s not just English irony that I don’t get – but some people’s logic, too.  See, I always thought that no democratic country awards its citizenship en-masse to people beyond its borders.  Especially to people who are legally and practically in a state of conflict with that country.  Critics of Israel like to pretend that award of citizenship is a universal requirement for people who are ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ by the country in question.  But that requirement is made out of whole cloth.  In fact, while Mr. Wineman’s own country ‘controlled’ or ‘occupied’ for long periods of time people in places like Iraq and Afghanistan – it did not offer them British citizenship.

I suspect that Mr. Wineman recognised the weakness of his own argument.  That’s probably why he decided to suddenly change tack, by focusing on East Jerusalem.  Which, according to Israeli law at least, is within – rather than beyond—the country’s borders.

“Even in East Jerusalem, where Israel has claimed full sovereignty ever since 1967, Palestinians are not automatically entitled to citizenship.”

Technically speaking, Mr. Wineman is right.  Logically speaking, his description of the situation is ‘a bit’ simplistic – not to say economical with the truth.  In 1967, Arab residents of Jerusalem were citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – a country at war with Israel.  Automatically granting them Israeli citizenship would have resulted in an unreasonable situation, in which citizens of an enemy country can elect and be elected to the Parliament (and in principle become members of the government, etc.)

The problem with ‘progressive’ critics of Israel is not that they demand that Israel adopts the most liberal measures ever encountered – and even go far beyond those; it is that they require Israel to do so in the midst of an existential conflict, in complete disregard of its collective safety and the principles of self-defence.  In the mind of ‘critics’ like Yachad and Mr. Wineman, Israel ‘must’ grant Arabs citizenship – even if that would endanger the safety and welfare of her existing citizenry.

Instead of such suicidal acts, Israel opted for a reasonable solution, which sought to balance the rights of Jerusalemite Arabs with those of her extant nationals.  East Jerusalem Palestinians were automatically given the status of permanent residents (תושב קבע).  Contrary to Mr. Wineman’s claim, this status confers – rather than denies – political rights: permanent residents are entitled to elect and be elected in local elections (including for the position of prestigious and powerful position of Mayor of Jerusalem).  Permanent residents have the same civic and social rights as Israeli citizens, including among many other things education, healthcare, income support, unemployment benefits…  The main difference is that, unlike citizens, permanent residents cannot elect or be elected to the Israeli Parliament.

Permanent residency is not something Israel invented for the benefit of East Jerusalem Palestinians; it is a legal status practiced by most democratic countries.  I should know: my legal status in the UK is that of a permanent resident.  I can vote in local elections, but not in national ones.  My resident status will be cancelled if I live in another country for more than two years.  I am eligible to apply for British citizenship (having lived here for more than five years), but the granting of citizenship is conditional upon fulfilling a whole raft of requirements including passing a test for knowledge of the English language, an additional test for familiarity with ‘British customs and traditions’ and proving I am ‘of good character’.  As for the latter requirement, the Home Office warns as follows:

“To be of good character you should have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observe its laws and fulfilled your duties and obligations as a resident of the UK.  Checks will be carried out to ensure that the information you give is correct.”

If I apply for British citizenship and my application is approved, I would be granted that citizenship – provided I take the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen or the Pledge of Loyalty to the state.

As it happens, I choose not to apply for British citizenship.  I feel it would be somewhat dishonest – a travesty: while I like and respect the country, I do not identify as British.

East Jerusalem Palestinians are also entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship.  The requirements are similar, though understandably in practice the ‘good character’ part places much more focus on security-related activity.

The PLO considers applying for Israeli citizenship an act of national treason; Hamas probably views it as apostasy.  Yet in recent years an increasing number of Jerusalemite Arabs are applying and being granted citizenship.  I don’t blame them; nor do I blame the ones that choose not to – it is a personal choice.  But nor should sanctimonious hypocrites (ensconced in their soft armchairs in North London) blame Israel for doing only ‘the next best thing’ under very difficult circumstances.

Then, there’s another point of logic: officially at least, Yachad (and, I can only presume, sympathisers like Mr. Wineman) still support the two-state solution, while also claiming that such solution would only be possible with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.  If that is indeed the desired outcome, why, then, would the inhabitants of the future Palestinian capital be created Israeli citizens??

 

I’m afraid I saved the worst for last: in his back-and-forth ‘debate’ on whether Zionism was “a stimulus [to] the most frightful antisemitism”, Mr. Wineman manages to casually sneak in the following vile sentence:

“The Zionists did not provoke German antisemitism and were able to work with the Nazis on one aim they both shared,- [sic!] to get Jews out of Germany.”

Sure, we all know about the Transfer Agreement.  But that Zionists ‘shared one aim’ with the Nazis is a sordid, foul claim.  The Nazis wanted to ‘purify’ the ‘Aryan race’ by getting rid of the Jews, while despoiling them in the process; the Zionists wanted to save the German Jews – whom no other country wanted (not even Britain at the time).  This wasn’t selling one’s soul to the Devil, but making a deal (even) with the Devil to save souls.

In theory at least, one can be an anti-Zionist without accusing Zionists of ‘sharing aims’ with the Nazis; in practice, it seems that anti-Zionism always ends up in antisemitism – if it does not originate in it to start with.  That a former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews should stoop to accusations proffered by the likes of Ken Livingstone and Sergey Lavrov is a matter of immense sadness and deep shame.



A former President cannot, unfortunately, be censored and expelled.  All we can do is to symbolically award him the ultimate Wooden Spoon.  My granddad would have said, face covered with his huge hands: !וואָס אַ בושה – What a shame!  As, I suspect, would his.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Russia & Ukraine: The smartened-up story – Chapter V

My Russia-Ukraine series of articles is approaching its conclusion.  So let’s summarise:

In the first article, I delved into the history of this conflict, debunking a few myths and underscoring its ethnic character.

The second chapter moves the limelight to more recent times, following the ethnic conflict in its ‘modern’ development.

In the third article, I dealt primarily with the Western actions (or lack thereof) – before and after the Russian aggression.

The fourth article in the series seeks to tear through the waves of propaganda and sloppy journalism and describe the political and military situation based on facts.  I spent the last part of that article analysing the grim consequences for the world at large.

Throughout those articles, I have maintained that, while in the current conflict Russia is by far the main culprit, in the bigger picture nobody comes out smelling of roses: not just Putin and his collaborators, but also Ukrainian and Western leaders.  Their actions – myopic, cowardly, insincere, often irrational and always inconsistent – brought about this dangerous situation.

I started this series with a confession: as a Jew who reads and lives history, I have very little sympathy for either Russia or Ukraine.  I feel very sorry for the (many) innocents caught up in this awful war; but, in regards to the conflict itself, I do not place myself in the corner of either country. 

So in this (last) article of the series, I’d like to close the loop by focusing on Jews.  ‘Why,’ I hear you asking – ‘what’s all this to do with Jews??’  Well, I share your confusion; but, unfortunately, for some people everything is (or should be) about Jews.

Take for instance the Iranian-British journalist Christiane Amanpour – made famous (some would say infamous) by her long career as anchor for the US networks CNN and PBS.  On March 1, she interviewed William Cohen, a former US Defence Secretary.  Despite his name, Mr. Cohen isn’t Jewish – in fact he is a practicing Christian; though I wonder how many among Ms. Amanpour’s audience know that.


At some point, Mr. Cohen raised the spectre of a potential nuclear war:

“It will be radioactive dust, it will be spread all over Russia, Europe, the United States and China as well.  Which is one reason I have suggested, Christiane, that there has to be some kind of outside intervention. Countries like China, India Israel have to give counsel and send the signal to Russia that — I’m hearing all the activity in the background, it’s a little disorienting, but they have to send the signal that they’re prepared to take action, to cut off certain relationships with Russia. Israel is in a position to do that. So is China. And China has to understand that if this thing does deteriorate and we’re on the edge of potentially nuclear weapons and war, then we’re all at risk at that point. The planet is at risk…”

Ms. Amanpour is known as a rather acerbic critic of Israel; this was all the opportunity she needed to focus on the Jewish state:

“But you just mentioned Israel and you've obviously named all the nuclear states. You mentioned India… Israel is a nuclear state. But Israel is also a US ally and did not support the United States-backed resolution in the Security Council.”

In fact, Cohen “obviously” had not named “all the nuclear states”; he’d simply listed three countries he thought might have some influence on Putin.  Placing tiny Israel in the same category as China and India was weird to start with.  But, rather than remarking on that, Ms. Amanpour decided to dismiss India, not to bother at all with China and, instead, direct her ire against the one Jewish state.  And, to boot, to ‘enhance’ the truth a tad: of course, Israel isn’t a member of the UN Security Council – and as such cannot “support” (or indeed oppose) any resolution.  What Israel declined to do was co-sponsor the US draft resolution – an utterly symbolic act; and, in fact, a symbolic draft: nobody expected it to actually become a resolution, as Russia and China have the power of veto in the UN Security Council.  When the matter was brought before the UN General Assembly, Israel co-sponsored and voted in favour of the US-backed Resolution ES-11/1.

Interestingly enough, the draft of the above resolution – citing Israel as co-sponsor – was issued on March 1st, raising the possibility that Ms. Amanpour knew (or should have known) about it.  Whether she knew or not, she continued the interview by asking William Cohen:

“I mean, can you even understand why Israel has not gone precisely for the reasons you have said to read Putin the riot act?”

To a rational person of medium intelligence, the idea of Israel (c. 20,000 square kilometers, population 10 million, GDP $400 billion) ‘reading the riot act’ to the autocratic President of Russia (17 million sq. km, population 145 million, GDP $1,500 billion) would seem ludicrous.  A rational person of medium intelligence may have pointed out that other US allies (including NATO member Turkey, as well as India, Qatar, UAE, etc.) were even less keen than Israel to “read Putin the riot act”.  And the same rational person of average IQ may have pointed out that – given that the mighty USA and the 27country-strong European Union had already “read Putin the riot act” and made no impression on him—there was nothing to gain from any Israeli remonstration.

But no rational person of medium intelligence was present during that interview.  Instead, Mr. Cohen responded, as he knew was expected of him:

“Well, I can say that I'm disappointed… err… deeply disappointed that they had not supported the United States and what we're seeking to do.”

But even in his mind something must have seemed not quite right, because he then went on to observe that

“I also understand that they find themselves in something of a conflict of interest. They've been able to take out certain Syrian targets with the Russians turning a blind eye. So, they've been cultivating a relationship with Russia in order to protect their security interests.”

In other words, even Mr. Cohen understood that – oh, horror – Israel prioritised its security interests over a ‘demonstrative gesture’ that was just as unlikely to move Putin as it was to satisfy Amanpour.

Following the interview, Ms. Amanpour tweeted:

“Israel is a close ally of the US, yet has not supported the US over Ukraine.  ‘I’m deeply disappointed that they have not supported the United States,’ says former US Defence Secretary William Cohen.  ‘They do have to make a decision here.’”

Which, if I’m to use a British understatement, was a rather skewed and tendentious ‘summary’ of what Cohen had said.

Ms. Amanpour is hardly the only Western journalist taking the opportunity to have a pop at the Jewish state.  Also, on Twitter, British broadcaster Andrew Neil (I struggle to recall who he works for these days) remarked:

“Israel fails to stand up for Ukraine. Reluctant to impose sanctions on Russia.  Still allowing flights from Russia but ended visa-free travel for Ukrainians. Stayed silent after Russian airstrike near Babi Yar memorial, where German Nazis killed tens of thousands of Jews in WW2.”

Mr. Neil is partially right: Israel – like the vast majority of countries in the world – did not impose sanctions on Russia.  Israel – like the vast majority of countries – “still” allows flights from Russia.  Israel – unlike the vast majority of countries in the world – has more than a million reasons to allow flights to and from Russia: that’s the number of Israelis who originate from that country; many still have relatives there, whom – Andrew Neil permitting – they wish to see.

It is also true that, since so many Ukrainian wish to seek asylum abroad, Israel has cancelled the visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens – and replaced it with a regime of entry permits.  But Andrew Neil’s criticism would sound less hypocritical if his own country allowed Ukrainians to enter without a visa.  But, of course, the UK does no such thing.  In fact, just like Israel, the UK prioritises visas for Ukrainians that already have relatives in the country.  But that’s where the similarities stop.  Because by the end of April 2022, Israel (population 10 million) had admitted 35,000 Ukrainian refugees; the United Kingdom (population 67 million) took on 27,000.

In fact, even the very hostile Human Rights Watch was forced to admit that Israel “unrolled the welcome mat to thousands of Ukrainians” – though of course it used that ‘praise’ to bash the Jewish state for… not doing the same with Palestinian refugees (i.e., people who do not flee a current war, but whose grandfathers or great-grandfathers fled one 74 years ago!)

As for Mr. Neil’s accusation that Israel [s]tayed silent” on the Babi Yar issue, that criticism isn’t hypocritical – but undeniably, demonstrably wrong.  Oh, let me do away with these annoying British understatements: that claim by Andrew Neil was a naked, indefensible, malignant and shameful lie.



But let’s leave the details of this or that accusation.  There is a bigger issue here; one well-articulated by an Israeli journalist – Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The fact that so many mainstream journalists are fixated on Israel in a conflict that is not about Israel is creepy and they should really examine why they’re doing it.”

So why do they do it?  Even in the oh-so creative spheres of social media, people have struggled to come up with an ‘acceptable’ explanation.  Some (like the Twitter user below, who calls himself ‘Reinhold Riebuhr’), came up with some ‘interesting’ explanations:

“Zelensky being one of the very few if any Jewish heads of state outside Israel, and Russia’s claim that the purpose of the war is ‘denazification’, might have something to do with why people are surprised Israel hasn’t been more critical of Russia.”

Now, since Nazis started a world war (not just war against Jews), one would think that claims of ‘denazification’ should concern a few other countries, not just Israel.  As for Zelensky being Jewish… how exactly is this justification for focusing on Israel??  Zelensky may be Jewish – but he certainly isn’t Israeli; he is a Ukrainian citizen, a Ukrainian patriot, some may say even a Ukrainian nationalist.  If Rishi Sunak ever becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – are people going to focus on India??

In some parts of the world, people do not feel the need to hide their feelings behind sophisticated ‘explanations’.  While being interviewed by a Lebanese TV station, a certain Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi (a leader of the Houthi insurgency in Yemen) opined:

“I think that what happened to Ukraine is the result of the evil-doing of the Jews.  This is proof that, when a Jew is the leader of a country, it results in war.  If the president of Ukraine was someone else, rather than that Jew, perhaps they would not have ended up in war.”

The Lebanese host, by the way, made no attempt to disabuse Mr. Al-Houthi of those notions – she just moved on to more controversial positions…



And not just in the Middle East.  Dmytro Kuleba is Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister.  Back at the beginning of March, he noticed (or someone noticed for him) that the Israeli airline El Al still had, on its website, a button marker ‘Mir’ – in this case referring to a Russian credit card clearance system.  Ukraine’s top diplomat proceeded to tweet as follows:

“While the world sanctions Russia for its barbaric atrocities in Ukraine, some prefer to make money soaked in Ukrainian blood.  Here is @EL_AL_ISRAEL accepting payments in Russian banking system ‘Mir’ designed to avoid sanctions.  Immoral and a blow to Ukrainian-Israeli relations.”

An Ukrainian accusing Jews of dealing in blood isn’t very diplomatic or conducive of good “Ukrainian-Israeli relations”.  If he had any brains – let alone any shame – Mr. Kuleba could have voiced his outrage in other terms.  Fortunately, someone at El Al is much more patient than I am. S/he tweeted:

“EL AL has blocked the use of the Mir credit card as of February 28.”

February 28 was, let’s remember, just 4 days after the start of the Russian invasion.  El Al’s representative also reminded His Excellency the Foreign Minister that the airline had already flown

“hundreds of tons of humanitarian and medical equipment for Ukraine and evacuated orphans and refugees to bring them to safety in Israel.”

El Al’s clarification was important – not because it forced Mr. Kuleba to offer a resentful apology, alongside a few words of cold gratitude; but because it gave us an opportunity to learn that Ukraine’s Foreign Minister isn’t just an insensitive jerk, but actually an idiot!



Clearly, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could not allow his Ukrainian counterpart to hog all the glory.  So he soon came up with his own contribution: in an effort to ‘explain’ how a country with a Jewish president could still be ‘ruled by Nazis’, Lavrov opined, in an interview with Italian media:

"So what if Zelenskyy is Jewish? The fact does not negate the Nazi elements in Ukraine.  Hitler also had Jewish origins, so it doesn't mean anything. Some of the worst antisemites are Jews."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov


No doubt in order to avoid being accused by Andrew Neil of ‘staying silent’, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reacted:

“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error.  Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of antisemitism.”

Yair Lapid is the son of a Holocaust survivor.  But that did not prevent Mr. Lavrov from delivering to him a history lesson about that rather painful historical event – a lesson whose only purpose was to ‘demonstrate’ that Jews can be and were Nazi collaborators.  The oh-so-erudite Russian diplomat even conjured the exact names of a handful of Jews who ‘betrayed’ their “fellow compatriots”.  Unfortunately, Mr. Lavrov omitted to mention that those Jews had perpetrated their ‘betrayal’ under threat of terrible torture and death not just to themselves, but to their entire family…  Which is more than can be said about tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian collaborators!

Apparently, Putin apologised for his Foreign Minister’s words.  Though the apology – such as it may have been – was uttered in a private phone conversation; apparently, Russian good manners do not require the actual perpetrator to offer a public apology for a public insult.  Nor is blatant antisemitism a sacking offence – in Russia or elsewhere.

Of course, antisemitism does not have to be blatant – even when it’s pervasive.  Early in the conflict, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spent a lot of time, effort and political capital trying to mediate and put an end to the bloodshed.  An observant Jews, he even broke the prohibition of travelling on Sabbath – on 5 March he flew to Moscow and met Putin, in an attempt to mediate an end to hostilities.  The fact was reported by pretty much every major Western media outlet, including in the UK.  Even the hostile Guardian gave it a cursory mention, while the no-less-unfriendly Financial Times published an entire article on Bennett’s exploits – and later named him as “the primary international mediator on the talks”.

There was one notable exception from this broad coverage: the British Broadcasting Corporation.  First, the Beeb (which reports every little scuffle taking place in Israel, especially if it makes the Jewish state look bad) ignored the whole thing.  Although on 9 March it did report on the mediation efforts of another international actor – Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Any news editor worth her salt will tell you that, in this day and age, ‘5 hours later’ often means ‘too late.  Yet it was 5 days later (on 10 March) that the BBC first told its audience about the Israeli mediation attempts.  Still, it is worth analysing this piece (signed by BBC’s Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman); it should serve as a textbook example of unethical journalism.

Mr. Bateman’s report starts by dramatically ‘breaking the news’:

“Early in the morning, as Russia's isolation grew, a jet took off from Tel Aviv bound for Moscow. It happened in secret, carrying a VIP delegation. The plane touched down with a reverse thrust: a hot blast into Moscow's dawn while Russia was being frozen out by the West.”

Mr. Bateman’s ‘cloak and dagger’ tone was, to put it very mildly, misplaced: no, the visit did not happen “in secret”; as mentioned, it was reported the same day by the Israeli, British and international media.  As for the rest of the paragraph it attempts to create the impression that Bennett’s flight to Moscow was some sort of ‘breach of solidarity’.  That’s not ‘misplaced’, or even misleading, but a shameless and malevolent lie.  The media had been quasi-unanimous in reporting that Bennett’s attempt at mediation was undertaken at the behest of Ukraine’s President Zelensky and in coordination with USA, Germany and France.  In fact, on 8 March (i.e., 2 days before Bateman’s malicious allegations were published), Zelensky thanked Bennett for those efforts.  A fact that was eminently familiar to the BBC ‘journalist’ – because… he reported it – albeit hidden at the end of his otherwise critical article!

No, this is not Clint Eastwood. Just Tom Bateman, BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, striking a ‘heroic’ pose.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent also tried to suggest that Bennett’s visit had some sort of selfish motivations:

“There are some immediate concerns for the Israelis. There are at least a quarter of a million Jews in Ukraine, eligible to make Israel their home under its ‘Law of Return’."

Israel, of course, cares deeply about the fate of Ukrainian Jews.  But only a very ‘creative’ BBC journalist could suggest that the reason for Bennett’s meeting with Putin was… what, exactly?  To ask the Russian dictator to suspend his invasion, to allow Ukrainian Jews “to make Israel their home”?

After accusing Bennett of ‘breaking the ranks’ and questioning the ‘purity’ of his motives, Mr. Bateman went on to suggest that his efforts are, actually, bereft of any value:

“It's unlikely Israel can play mediator in the usual sense of a powerful arbiter that tries to entice each party into concessions.  It would have to be more of a message carrier, shuttling between unequal sides.  Some question the value of such an attempt.”

I would be interested to know: who are those “some” that Mr. Bateman referred to in the above passage?  The leader of Hamas?  Or is this just to typical cowardly subterfuge of an unethical ‘journalist’ who attributes his own opinion to others in order to disguise them as ‘news’?  And I’d love to know where Mr. Bateman found that “usual sense” of the term ‘mediator’.  Not in any dictionary I know!  The Cambridge Dictionary provides us with what its authors see as “the usual sense” of the word:

“a person who tries to end a disagreement by helping the two sides to talk about and agree on a solution.”

Nothing about “a powerful arbiter”, then!  In fact, ‘mediation’ is very different from arbitration – as Mr. Bateman could have learned if he paid a bit more attention in high school; or, failing that, if he bothered to google the terms:

“A mediator helps parties negotiate a settlement that will satisfy all the parties. A mediator does not decide a dispute.

An arbitrator functions more like a judge, deciding the outcome of a dispute based on evidence and law presented in an arbitration. Arbitration is binding, and the outcome can be enforced like a court order. Parties must agree to arbitrate and must sign an arbitration agreement.”

But wait for the punch line.  Writes Mr. Bateman:

“Many in Arab countries, having lived the aftershocks of American and British invasions, condemn the West for what they see as its double standards over Ukraine. Palestinians point to Western backing for Ukrainian resistance and celebration of its leaders and ask: What about us? Israeli critics of this argument have been very vocal too, saying there is no equivalence between the two conflicts.”

Now, I know a bit of Middle Eastern history.  But, much as I strain my memory, I can think of just one Arab country where “many […] lived the aftershocks of American and British invasions” (and are still alive to tell Mr. Bateman about it).  That country is Iraq.  Now, whatever one thinks of the American and British invasion of Iraq, the comparison is more than far-fetched.  And “aftershocks of American and British invasions” is a very ‘creative’ euphemism for terrorist attacks perpetrated by some Iraqis against other Iraqis!

As for the Palestinians… I don’t know about ‘alternative history’ or indeed alternative universes.  In this universe, Israel never invaded a sovereign state ruled by Palestinian Arabs; quite the opposite: the sovereign State of Israel was repeatedly invaded by Arab armies claiming to support the Palestinians.

So how does one call the type of hostility that causes a BBC ‘journalist’ to find ‘negatives’ in an attempt to put an end to war and bloodshed – simply because that attempt was undertaken by Jews or the Jewish state?  Along with the vast majority of people of good will, I call it antisemitism; the BBC insists that it should be spelled ‘anti-Semitism’.  Its experts have presumably determined that the term isn't just another name for Jew-hating, but denotes opposition to 'Semitism'!

But the BBC isn’t alone in being eager to bash and very reluctant to utter praise for the Jewish state.  Think of all the politicians who are so quick to condemn Israel – including those (like Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer) who declare themselves ‘friends’.  All these ‘leaders’ shed crocodile tears for the Ukrainian victims – yet none of them so much as tweeted a word of praise when Israel’s Prime Minister broke one of Judaism’s strictest commandments to try and save lives.

Think about outfits like Yachad and New Israel Fund: to gain a modicum of acceptance, these groups pretend to be ‘pro-Israel’.  Yet – while quick to bash the Jewish state for every real or imaginary misdeed – they couldn’t find it in their hardened hearts to utter a good word in this case.

The closest Yachad got to doing so was by retweeting a post that called Bennet’s peace-making effort “a bizarre turn of events”.  Bizarre indeed!

As for New Israel Fund, they did not even deign to mention Bennett’s flight to Moscow.  Instead, on 7 March Daniel Sokatch, their California-based CEO, published an article that indirectly accused Israel of “neutrality [which] is immoral and dangerous”.  ‘Pro-Israel’ indeed!

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of New Israel Fund. based in sunny… no, not Israel. San Francisco.


None of those ‘pro-Israel’ activist outfits as much as lifted a finger to try and rebut the many Israel-haters for whom the war in Ukraine was just another opportunity to bash the Jewish state.  None of them, for instance, criticised Labour MP Julie Elliott, who tried to cast democratic Israel in the role of the Russian villain:

“The Palestinians are looking to us to speak and act in the same terms.  We sanctioned Russia over Crimea, and we are now likely to impose more sanctions, with which I wholeheartedly agree, yet Palestinians ask why we do nothing to end Israel’s occupation.”

Never mind that Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war – not in a war of unprovoked aggression; never mind that Israel has repeatedly offered to withdraw from the vast majority of those territories in return for peace; never mind that “the Palestinians” (read: the unelected, undemocratic and terrorism-supporting Palestinian ‘leadership’) rejected all those offers; never mind that there are fewer similarities between the two conflicts than between Ms. Elliott and Joseph Stalin.  “We” still have “to speak and act in the same terms”.  Ms. Elliott heard about the Russian aggression against Ukraine; and her operative conclusion is… “we” have to sanction Israel!

Do it with a smile: UK Labour Party MP Julie Elliott


And that’s the point: in the minds of many people, anything and everything bad is about Jews.  Nothing new about that – it’s been going on forever.  Your cow is dying?  The Jews must’ve poisoned the well.  Your child was – God forbid – murdered, or just missing?  I bet the Jews kidnapped him to use his blood in some monstruous ritual.

Throughout this series of articles, I’ve been arguing that, while in the current military conflict Russia is the aggressor – in the bigger picture nobody comes out smelling of roses: certainly not Putin and his accomplices, but also not the Ukrainian and Western leaders.  Because of their actions (or lack thereof), the entire humanity finds itself living in a more dangerous place.

This conflict is very bad news.  Except for the antisemites, of course: for them, it’s yet another opportunity to satisfy their obsession.  And it really does not matter if they weep for Ukraine or root for Putin: they can condemn Jewish oligarchs, blame Zelinsky-the-Jew or – best of all – bash the Jewish state.  Or all of the above, of course.

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Russia & Ukraine: The smartened-up story – Chapter IV

 I’ve said in the previous chapters and I’ll mention it again: in the current war Russia (and only Russia) is the guilty party.  But that’s no reason for Western politicians and mainstream media to treat us as if we’re all simple-minded, unable to grasp complexity or nuance and incapable of telling reality from wishful thinking.

In this series of articles, I fight the groupthink; I attempt to expose the dumbed-down narrative that’s being fed to us and smarten it up. I trust my fellow human beings: we are able to cope with the stark, unadulterated, unvarnished reality; treat us like intelligent adults.

In this chapter, I will focus on Russia’s political position, on the military situation on the ground, on probable outcomes and on the indirect (but no less grave) consequences likely to result from Putin’s aggression and from the Western response to it.

Pariah

Listening to Western politicians and media outlets, one may be forgiven for thinking that Russia is on the brink of collapse: isolated politically, undermined economically and defeated militarily.

Speaking on LBC, former Prime Minister David Cameron told Putin

"[You] turned your country into a pariah state and we're going to treat you that way."

“Pariah”?  You’d think that Mr. Cameron would have learned to be careful with his assessments, after getting the mood of his own people so wrong in the runup to the Brexit referendum!

The Times of London interviewed former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who opined that Putin might be deposed by a coup:

"With Putin, I very much expect there to be resistance growing and discontent growing that will be resolved one way or another."

Well, everything is possible, of course.  But the problem with Mr. Kozyrev’s opinions about what’s may happen in Russia is that… he’s been living in Miami for donkey’s years now.

The (however unpleasant) reality is that Putin enjoys popular support in Russia.  A recent opinion poll showed that his approval ratio rose to no less than 83% in March 2022.  While we cannot guarantee the veracity of this result, the poll was conducted by Levada Center; which, in the words of USA Today, is

"widely considered among the only credible pollsters operating in Russia."

People in the West may struggle to grasp that kind of result, when it comes to a man who restricted freedoms at home and initiated a war abroad.  But admiration and even love for strong leaders is very much part of the Russian culture.  And, on the other hand, Putin – who has a tight grip on the media – controls the flow of information and the public narrative.

There is, of course, social media.  But, it’s not so simple.  To start with, only 30% of Russians are on Facebook – as opposed to 66% in the UK; for Twitter the numbers are 11% in Russia and circa 60% in the UK.  But it’s not just that: even when they do use social media, Russians tend to use it… in the Russian language (only circa 5% of Russians speak English).  But what also needs to be realised is how social media actually works: unless you are looking for something specific, chances are that platforms like Facebook and Twitter will mostly show you posts that more or less align with your own opinions.  This is how their algorithms work: they seek to identify your ‘interests’, then show you mostly posts that chime in with those ‘interests’.  The chances of ‘learning the truth’ from social media aren’t actually great – unless one makes a determined effort to find a variety of points of view.

In fact, the reality that Putin enjoys popular support in his own country is well-known among Western leaders – though few of them care to admit it.  Well, they may hide the truth from us, but fortunately not all of them dare to lie to their own parliament.  Questioned in the US Congress, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters (who is in charge of the U.S. European Command) said that popular support in Russia was a major factor in Putin’s decision to go to war.

The Western press has been quick to notice anti-war protests which took place in several Russian cities.  Well, that’s great – but only until one reads that the largest such protest (in Moscow’s Pushkin Square) is reported – by the same Western media – to have numbered 2,000 people.  Compare that with the more than 750,000 people (as estimated by the Met Police) who, in 2003, demonstrated in London against the war in Iraq.

Well, Putin may be popular at home, but Russia is internationally isolated – right?  Err… so it would seem – if you get your information from Western politicians and West-centric media.  But let’s broaden our view a bit.

True, a clear majority of UN members voted in the General Assembly to ‘deplore’ the Russian aggression.  But talk is cheap, ‘deplore’ isn’t a particularly strong term in diplomatic parlance – and votes in the General Assembly don’t count for much.

When it comes to adopting sanctions against Russia, things look a lot different.  Of course, the European Union enacted such sanctions as a bloc – and so did 5 countries: USA, Canada, UK, Japan and Australia.  And… that’s all, folks!  Sure, you may say, but the US is the world’s largest economy; it’s not just one more country.  True – but not necessarily relevant.  The US may be the top dog when it comes to economic output; but in 2021 it accounted for just 3.6% of Russia’s exports.  The UK (despite the bad blood between the two countries, caused by nefarious Russian activities on British territory) accounted for 4.5% and Japan for 2.2%.  In fact, those large economies were worth – in terms of Russian exports – less than Belarus (4.6%) and Kazakhstan (3.8%).  Admittedly, the EU was the destination of a whopping 30% of Russian exports.  But, as we know, that’s mostly coal, oil and gas, which continue to be supplied from Russia.  From the point of view of Russia’s international trade, the most important country is by far China (14% of exports and more than 20% of imports).

Nether China nor India (another populous country with a large economy) have any intention of sanctioning Russia.  And that’s true of every other country in Asia (except Japan), as well as the entire Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

In fact, given that besides the European Union, only five non-EU countries have adopted any sanctions against Russia, Putin might argue that it is the former that’s isolated!

Mighty Bear or paper tiger?

But – I hear you say – things will no doubt change.  More countries will surely join in; the Russians themselves might decide to get rid of Putin.  After all, as we learn from the Western media and from our very reliable leaders, Putin’s army is getting a right beating at the hands of Ukrainian forces.  In fact, writing for Al-Jazeera, Justin Bronk determined that

"Russia has effectively admitted defeat In [sic!] Ukraine."

You heard that, folks?  The Russian Bear is actually a paper tiger!  Justin Bronk, by the way, is Senior Research Fellow in Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute in London (ironically the acronym they use is RUSI).  Well, if a Senior Military Scientist working for something with ‘Royal’ in its name said it – it must be true!  Especially since RUSI is an independent charity, which assures us on its website:

"The Institute receives no core government funding."

Now, one of my many issues is that I like to verify things that are given to me as 'fact'.  That’s why I had a look at their list of ‘Supporters’ (charities are supposed to disclose lists of major donors).  In the highest category – called ‘Over £1,000,000’ – I was surprised (no, not really!) to find a certain outfit called ‘European Commission’.  In another category (more modestly described as ‘£200,000 to £499,999’), one finds some other renowned philanthropists: United States Department of State, [UK] Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Canada Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Plus, incidentally, Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs – which might explain why Mr. Bronk published his article in Al Jazeera, of all places.

Just as an aside: one of Mr. Bronk’s previous Al-Jazeera contributions dealt with Iran’s ballistic missiles – which, Mr. Bronk broadly dismissed as

"potentially dangerous but not decisive or hugely effective."

That article was published on 9 March 2016.  That is, I’m sure, a mere coincidence: nothing to do with the fact that, on 8 and 9 March 2016, Iran test-fired a whole series of long range ballistic missiles (some of whom have been marked with good wishes written in Hebrew – such as ‘Israel must be wiped off the face of the Earth’).  Nothing to do with the fact that these missile tests were 'a bit' embarrassing for the Obama administration, coming as they did shortly after the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action’ (JCPOA – i.e. the agreement that removed sanctions and gave Iran access to some $100 billion of previously frozen funds) started its much awaited implementation period.  Though I seem to remember then Vice President Joe Biden rather struggled to explain why such a ‘Comprehensive’ Plan of Action did nothing to prevent Iran from developing and testing what is essentially a nuclear bomb delivery system!

So, now that we’ve established his superb credentials, let’s go back to Mr. Bronk’s article on Russia admitting defeat in Ukraine.  The article gleefully announces that

"the Russian army has taken extremely heavy losses; between 7,000 and 15,000 personnel killed and more than 2,000 vehicles visually confirmed as destroyed or captured."

[B]etween 7,000 to 15,000” is of course quite a wide range.  And anyone who served in the army (any army!) knows that ‘visually confirmed’ is the military equivalent of ‘take with a grain of salt’.  According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Russia has more than 1,000,000 regular soldiers under arms, plus 2,000,000 reservists.  Its military budget is 4.3% of GDP – double the proportion UK spends.  The Russians have circa 13,000 tanks (the largest such arsenal of any army in the world) and hundreds of thousands of military vehicles, of which circa 36,000 armoured ones.

Now, I am not claiming for a moment that the Russians did not sustain losses – even such that other countries might call ‘heavy losses’ (though to describe a few thousand fatalities as “extremely heavy losses” in the context of the Russian army is indicative – to put it mildly – of a ‘slight’ penchant for exaggeration!)  For whatever it’s worth, by the way, BBC News Russian claims to have documented the death of 1,083 Russian servicemen.  This is based on the panegyrics published in local newspapers and on locally issued lists of ‘fallen heroes’.  If Mr. Bronk’s “between 7,000 to 15,000” is right, then it means that the BBC missed 6,000 to 14,000 obituaries.  Or perhaps those soldiers did not have any relatives and were not considered heroes...

Anyway, what we are not told (you’d struggle to find such information in the Western press) is the extent of losses on the Ukrainian side.  The Russians claimed (on 16 April) to have killed 23,367 Ukrainian troops.  On the very same day, President Zelenskyy estimated Ukrainian military fatalities at 2,500 to 3,000 troops, while judging Russia’s losses to be 19,000 to 20,000.

Me… gee… I just don’t know.  But I know one thing: ‘Truth is the first casualty of war’.  Or, as Samuel Johnson more poetically put it:

"Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages."

Since many of those involved in this conflict aren’t particularly famous for their love of truth in the first place, it behoves us to reign in our credulity, lest we become hapless foot soldiers in their propaganda war.

It’s not just the losses.  We are told that Russia has already suffered a defeat and 'had to' reassess its war aims.  For instance, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby claimed, already at the end of March:

"[T]hey failed to take Kyiv. Which we believe was a key objective. And again, you just have to look at what they were doing in those early days. They wanted Kyiv. And they didn’t get it."

True, the Russians “didn’t get” Kyiv – although they half-encircled the city, reaching within a few miles of it.  But it does not follow that they “wanted” it.  Before starting his ‘special operation’, Putin and his collaborators issued lots of tough-sounding, threatening statements.  That’s to be expected when a dictator decides to go to war.  Some of those statements may have been psychological war; others were no doubt meant to sow confusion and mess up the Ukrainian troops’ disposition.  Who knows?  One thing is clear: taking those statements at face value is incredibly naïve.

Did Putin want to conquer the entire Ukraine?  I doubt it.  Conquering a country of that size is of course possible – Hitler conquered Poland in just six weeks.  But, as the Russians still remember from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, conquering and controlling are two different things.

Like everybody else, I cannot read Putin’s mind.  But, as someone who spent his youth under a dictatorial regime, I can try to guess the ‘logic’ behind his actions.

I suggest that, ideally, Putin would’ve wanted to replicate in Ukraine the model that works so well for him in the case of Belarus and Kazakhstan: to wit, an authoritarian regime closely allied with Russia, while maintaining (at least in theory) the national independence, with all its nominal attributes: a flag, an anthem and separate votes at the UN.

Assuming my guess above is accurate, would Putin have wanted to conquer Kyiv?  Doubtful, I say.  Firstly, where he really wanted to take a city, take he did (see the case of Mariupol), even against desperate Ukrainian resistance.  Secondly, taking a city of the size of Kyiv (c. 6 times larger than Mariupol) would have involved heavy Russian losses.  His army’s advantages (in terms of manpower, equipment, firepower, air superiority) come into play in open terrain, not in close-quarter street combat.  And any regime he would’ve installed in Kyiv under occupation would’ve been irredeemably tainted in the eyes of most Ukrainians.

In the West, the narrative is that the Russian army was stopped in its tracks by resolute Ukrainian resistance, combined with its own logistical mishaps.  But how credible is this narrative?  Kyiv is well-served by roads and railroad and it is relatively close to Ukraine’s border with Russia’s ally Belarus.  The supply lines are neither long nor difficult and Russia has, of course, plenty of petrol to fuel its tanks.  Videos circulated, apparently showing Russian soldiers looting Ukrainian shops and plundering food.  This was taken to mean that they were hungry.  But anyone who, like me, has lived for any length of time on army (any army) rations, will tell you that those taste – at best – somewhere between bland and disgusting.  No, soldiers plunder civilian shops not necessarily because they lack food; what they lack is 'just’ discipline and ethics.

As for Ukrainian resistance: assuming that Putin really wanted to take Ukraine’s capital, encountering such challenge should have caused him to bring in additional reinforcements (Russia has, as we know, plenty of additional manpower and materiel).  But this has not happened.  Are we to believe that the Russian dictator gave up so easily?

Why, then, the initial advance on Kyiv?  My guess is that Putin was simply applying maximum pressure, hoping to see either a Ukrainian-led coup or the country’s current government agreeing to make extensive concessions.

Neither scenario materialised – his bluff clearly did not work.  But to describe this as ‘defeat’ is ‘a bit’ premature.  The fact of the matter is that all the fighting takes place inside Ukraine – not in Russia.  While it is, as mentioned, doubtful that the Russians really wanted to take Kyiv and Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second-largest city, situated very close to the Russian border), Putin has secured a much more useful objective: a sizable land corridor linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.  Apart from facilitating logistics, this turns the Sea of Azov into an inner Russian lake.  It allows the Russian navy to blockade not just the Ukrainian Black Sea ports, but – in case of need – also the Georgian ones.  Last but by no means least, it goes a long way towards reversing what Putin sees as a NATO encroachment via the Black Sea shores of its members Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.  In any conventional conflict between Russia and NATO, the Black Sea may become a main theatre of operations – and potentially Russia’s soft underbelly.

Pink represents Ukrainian territory taken by the Russian army. The latter appears to have initiated a pincer movement from south from Izyum and north of Mariupol and Berdyansk. This threatens Ukrainian supply lines and, if completed, may cut off Ukrainian forces engaged in combat on the Donbas front.

After reaching Crimea via Mariupol, the Russian army continued to push west along the seashore, threatening the important port and industrial cities of Kherson and Odessa.  Taking those cities would cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea, leaving the country landlocked; and would establish a land link with the largely Russian-speaking breakaway Republic of Transnistria, which seceded from Moldova and is being ‘supported’ by a contingent of Russian troops.  Whether Putin actually wants to take Kherson and Odessa remains to be seen.  But what the southern push certainly does is to broaden Russia’s tactical options.

The yellow-green area represents Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russian army (approximatively). The red arrows are estimated directions of Russian offensive. The thin red strip to the East of Moldova represents the breakaway 'Republic of Transnistria' (recognised internationally as part of Moldova and 'supported' by Russian troops).  The two 'republics' carved out of Georgia are also represented.

The Russians have also conquered considerable Ukrainian territory in Ukraine’s east and north.  Very importantly, they have reached the town of Izyum, circa 100 km deep inside Ukraine.  This may be the key to taking the entire Donbas.  The Russians are currently pushing west along the entire Donbas front, thus engaging a large proportion of the Ukrainian army.  But simultaneously they threaten to encircle those Ukrainian units through a pincer movement south of Izyum and north of Mariupol.

Speaking about the latter city: we are told about the heroic Ukrainian resistance and about the horrific plight of civilians caught in a city under siege.  What is less frequently explained is that the city is, for all practical purposes, under Russian control – and has been so for a while now.  A few hundred Ukrainian soldiers still holding on in an ever-decreasing area – in the ruins of the Mariupol’s industrial area – may be symbolic and heart-warming for many Ukrainians; but in stark military terms it is of no real consequence.

So what’s the end game?

So, while in the West the story is overwhelmingly one of Russian military incompetence and defeat, I fear that in reality Putin is doggedly pursuing his goals.  Nor do I believe that his goals have fundamentally changed – he has just accepted that they will take longer to achieve.

Assume, for the moment, that Russia conquers and – international recognition be damned – holds on to Donbas (or large parts of it), as well as other parts of Ukraine.  Assume, also, that at that point Putin stops the offensive and declares victory (despite Western assertions to the contrary, it would not be difficult for him to ‘sell’ that victory to the Russian people – after all he’d have the new territories as ‘evidence’).

What will happen then?  Ukraine’s economy is in tatters.  The World Bank expects (or, more accurately, expected early in April) the country’s GDP to shrink by 45%.  So just $88 billion – down from circa $160 billion last year (but that forecast assumes that most of the Donbas will still be Ukrainian…)  Repairing the infrastructure is (so far!) expected to cost $63 billion.  Millions of Ukrainians took refuge in the West – and the best and brightest among them are unlikely to return any time soon to their ravaged country.

It’s easy to provide weapons to Ukraine in the midst of an aggression against it – especially as the weapons don’t cost much, as they come from old, existing stocks.  But who will support Ukraine economically in the years to come?  Who will supply the coal, oil and gas needed to keep Ukrainian from freezing next winter – and many winters after that?  Who will provide the money needed to rebuild the country and its economy?  After two years of devastating pandemic, the West faces grave economic difficulties of its own.  But without massive and sustained economic aid, Ukraine will gradually fall under the sway of its larger and stronger neighbour, just as surely as Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Dire consequences

This isn’t just about Ukraine, unfortunately.  Putin’s aggression – and the paltry Western reaction to it – have made the entire world a much more dangerous place.

First and foremost, there is China.  China which is arming at a tremendous pace.  China, which is expanding its international reach and influence, alongside its economic might.  China, which is becoming more and more assertive in its relationship with the West.

What does China get out of this?  Firstly, an extremely valuable ally (Russia) – and one that is likely (because of the Western sanctions) to become increasingly dependent on its economic and political support.

Secondly, China had an opportunity to gauge the West’s determination – and found it lacking.  Given that the Western governments showed zero willingness to intervene militarily in Ukraine (a European country) – how likely are they to make such a move when China attacks Taiwan?

China (red) and Taiwan (the blue island to the south-east of China). China considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory and has openly declared its intention to reunite it with the mainland at an unspecified time in the future.


Thirdly, China had the opportunity to see in practice the value of economic dependence: the West was rendered impotent not just by its lack of appetite for conflict, but also by its dependence on Russian exports of fuel.  But, while the Western leaders belatedly try to reduce that dependence (a gargantuan task in itself), their economies rely more and more on Chinese exports and Chinese money.

China's officially-available military budget. In 2022, its military expenditure is expected to reach c. $230 billion.  Which means that it almost doubled in the past 10 years.


China is already the main exporter to Europe; it’s share of EU imports of goods will soon reach 25%.  While Western economies (like sail ships drifting entirely at the mercy of ‘market winds’) increasingly focus on services, China is building itself as the Global Manufacturer.

We in the West live in an increasingly sophisticated world: everything – our power plants, our roads and railways – and certainly our military – is based on computers.  And what’s the problem with that?  Well, let me tell you: I am typing this on a Chinese-manufactured keyboard; I format it with the help of a Chinese-manufactured mouse.  My laptop was assembled in USA from components made mostly in Taiwan.  And I rely increasingly on my iPhone – manufactured in China, of course.



Now remember what Putin got away with – just because Europe buys about a third of its fossil fuels from Russia.  How will we ever be able to confront Chinese aggression?  Or is ‘It won’t happen’ our ultimate strategy?

And it’s not just China; there are many – enemies and unreliable friends – who will look at the Russia-Ukraine-West kerfuffle and draw conclusions.

Take Iran, for instance.  Or, more precisely, take the Ayatollah that sits at the top of the Islamic Republic.  He has seen at least two Middle Eastern leaders toppled and killed in a rather brutal, dishonourable way: Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein tried to get nuclear weapons – but was stopped first by an Israeli raid and eventually gave up that quest.  He ended up hiding in a dark, smelly underground hole, from which he was pulled out and ultimately hanged.  Unlike him, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi ‘listened to the voice of reason’: he agreed to stop and dismantle its nuclear programme, as well as give up chemical and biological weapons.  He was eventually defeated, captured and killed by a mob – including by being rectally assaulted with sharp objects…

If your conclusion is that all dictators end badly – think again.  There is at least one who is, perhaps, much worse than both Saddam and Gaddafi: I’m talking about North Korea’s own Kim Jong-un.  He is, however, very much alive and kicking; in fact, he is arguably untouchable –because, unlike the two Middle Eastern dictators mentioned before, he was neither stopped, nor listened to reason, but went on and obtained nuclear weapons.

And then there’s Ukraine.  Which has nothing to do with any of the dictators I mentioned – except insofar as it had and gave up nuclear weapons.  Had it controlled those weapons today, would Putin have attacked it?

Now place yourself in the tight shoes and wide robes of the Iranian Ayatollah and think: what can you learn from all this?

An Iranian Khorramshahr ballistic missile (range: c. 2,000 km)


And it’s not just the Ayatollah, but every jihadi terrorist out there.  Make no mistake: the next Osama bin Laden, the next Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – they are all emboldened by this.

In international relations there are many steadfast enemies, but few reliable friends.  If you’re an ally of the US (think, for instance, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan), what will you make of what’s happening to Ukraine these days?  We are not talking about countries that share ‘values’ with the West, but regimes that see (or saw, at least) interest in an alliance with mighty Uncle Sam.  But an uncle that abandons one nephew might also abandon the next one in his hour of need.  The US ‘nephews’ are increasingly unsettled and might be ready to exchange their old uncle for another, with a more reliable ‘nepotism’ policy.

Again, put yourself in the shoes of these Middle Eastern ‘kings’, ‘emirs’ and ‘presidents’.  On one hand, there’s Russia: it stuck to its ally, Syria’s Bashar Assad, through thick and thin – even after the latter butchered Syrians by the thousand, including with chemical weapons.  Putin unerringly saved Assad’s bacon, not in the least by direct military intervention.  On the other hand, there’s the West: one does not have to go back as far as Vietnam or bring up Jimmy Carter and the Shah of Iran – there are more recent examples.  Obama dropped Mubarak like a hot potato, then tried to ‘make nice’ to an Islamist.  It was the Egyptian dictator’s sheer luck – not the protection of his ‘ally’ – that spared him a fate similar to that of Saddam or Gaddafi.  The West abandoned its ‘ally’ Georgia when it got in trouble with Putin.  And now it’s done pretty much the same with Ukraine.  To be an ally of the West is to be constantly preached to – just look at the constant stream of ‘criticism’ that democratic Israel is getting – but not necessarily get help and support when needed.  The West is gentle on its enemies and tough on its friends.  Or, as Henry Kissinger more forcefully put it,

"it may be dangerous to be America's enemy, but to be America's friend is fatal."

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I want the West to give up its values and, like Russia and China do, warmly embrace every bloody dictator who promises to be ‘on our side’.  No, quite the opposite.  But what is needed is consistency and dependability.  By all means choose your friends and allies carefully; but then stand by them.  Zigzagging between supporting friends and appeasing enemies will take you nowhere.

 

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In the next (and probably last) instalment of this series, I will focus on Jews.  What (if any) are the current and potential consequences of this conflict on the Jewish people and the Jewish state?  Watch this space.

 
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