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.


  1. Best of the five articles, an excellent informative read. Nick

  2. I am able to agree fully with the author with one caveat. Putin has targeted civilians, women and children on a great scale. The Ukrainians are not engaging in any form of similar totally inhuman activity. .
    Alex Rose, Ashkelon, Israel