“Your heroes are our nightmare”: Israeli Ambassador on Ukraine relations and Holodomor recognition.

Given that Israel is one of the strategic partners of Ukraine and we have many common history pages, some of them being very sensitive, KYIV NOT KIEV decided to talk about all of it with the Ambassador of the State of Israel to Ukraine, Mr. Joel Lion. We must also mention that Mr Lion’s last weeks in this position in Ukraine are coming to an end, so it is quite possible that our interview will summarize four undoubtedly interesting years in bilateral relations.

Mr. Ambassador mentioned some highlights accompanying those four years, such as the visits of the two presidents of Ukraine to Israel and the signing of an FTA, negotiations on which began back in 2013. But only on January 21, 2019, the Free Trade Agreement was signed.

For it to enter into force, the Agreement must be ratified by both states. From its side, Ukraine ratified it in August 2019 and has been waiting for a reciprocal step from Israel for almost 1,5 years. The reason for the delay in Israel’s ratification was the constant holding of parliamentary elections: former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not form a government after two elections in 2019.

Mr. Ambassador also mentioned one of the most memorable events of the Embassy’s work in Ukraine. They carried out a project to restore water supply systems in eastern Ukraine. Due to the lack of clean water in some villages and disruptions in central water supply, the project aimed to gain uninterrupted access to safe drinking water. For example, in two villages – Zaytseve and Kodema – 4 wells in each village have been renovated and opened at the expense of the Embassy of the State of Israel and the Israeli Agency for International Cooperation MASHAV.

On the Israeli and Ukrainian different perceptions of Russia 

“We don’t see Russia at all as an enemy,” Mr. Lion firmly stated, answering the quote about the common enemy of Israel and Ukraine . The Ambassador highlighted that the State of Israel is sure – Russia does not stand behind a weapons supply to Hamas. According to him, Iran is responsible for shipping weapons to Hamas with the aim of destroying the State of Israel. On the contrary, official Tel Aviv is cooperating with Russia in Syria to stop the Iranian threat. Nevertheless, regarding the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Lion believes that the only way to change the behavior of the aggressor state is dialogue, “Israel is also passing messages to Russia on dialogue.”

“Your heroes are our nightmare”

According to the Ambassador, Ukraine is one of the countries with the highest level of anti-Semitism now. The reason hides in people’s lack of knowledge about their anti-Semitic words or actions.

The ADL Global 100 Index study for the Anti-Defamation League from New York suggests that, as of 2019, Ukraine had one of the highest levels of anti-Semitism in Europe. The highest level is in Poland – in 4 years it increased from 37% to 48%, in Ukraine – from 32% to 46%. Such a rapid rise has been influenced by stereotypes that exist in society. For example, there is a very popular stereotype about the Jewish community’s significant control of the business and financial markets. The survey says that a staggering 72 percent of Ukrainians agreed with a statement, “Jews have too much power in the business world.”

In contrast, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy once stated that the level of anti-Semitism in Ukraine is one of the lowest among European countries. As proof, he cites a published survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018, in which the lowest level of anti-Semitism was in Ukraine. Only 5% of Ukrainians would not like to have Jews as their fellow citizens. Among countries of Eastern and Central Europe, it is the lowest level.

Speaking about Israel’s refusal to accept Ukrainian steps to perpetuate the names of national heroes by naming stadiums and streets in their honor, the Ambassador says, “Israel cannot accept it, and will be loud about that.”

Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joel Lyon negatively reacted to the decision of the Ternopil City Council, which named the stadium after Roman Shukhevych, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. It is worth noting that Roman Shukhevych managed to hide a Jewish girl during the war and even sent her to an orphanage at a Greek Catholic convent 30 kilometers from Lviv, where she was until the end of the war.

Also, earlier, in January 2021, Mr. Lion called Stepan Bandera a “collaborator with the Nazis.”

Mr. Lion also mentioned that Israel’s initiative to create a historical commission was refused by the Ukrainian side. However, the Ambassador hopes that the Ukrainian Ministry of culture will change its opinion on this topic.

On Israeli refusal to recognize Holodomor as genocide

Although officially Israel agrees that the Ukrainian nation survived a colossal tragedy, where millions of people died, it still does not aim to take any step to recognize Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian nation, as long as the term “genocide” is used. According to the Ambassador, a lot of Jews also died due to that famine. “For us, it is very hard to say that it [Holodomor] was against the Ukrainian people,” said Mr. Lion. Many people in Israel see it not as a genocide but as a “sociocide” because, in the Ambassador’s opinion, it was not against the Ukrainians, but against the part of society.

According to historians, about 7 million people died of the Holodomor in Ukraine. Almost 20 countries recognized the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 as genocide of the Ukrainian nation. About 81% of those starving to death in Ukraine were Ukrainians, 4.5% were Russians, 1.4% were Jews, and 1.1% were Poles. Researchers note that the distribution of Holodomor victims by nationality corresponds to the national distribution of Ukraine’s rural population. And the cause of the famine of 1932-33 was not because of natural reasons but the forced and repressive policy of grain procurement for the peasants, which was pursued by the communist authorities to suppress the Ukrainian national liberation movement.

On prospects of Ukrainian-Israeli bilateral relations

Despite the recent fundamental change of the Israeli Government, the Ambassador is convinced that foreign relations of the State of Israel will continue to be very stable. The main message around which negotiations with Ukraine are built is “cooperation in every field.” Nowadays, the ties between Kyiv and Tel Aviv are solid. The Ambassador even gave an example, “When you have a phone call of your president [Zelenskyy] to my new Prime Minister as one of the first leaders to call, it is a point which shows good and warm relations between countries.”

Speaking about Ukraine’s 30th Independence Day and the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries, Mr. Lion noted that Israel will do everything to have somebody coming to Kyiv on August 24, as well as on the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy.

Victoria Dubiv – Project manager at TRUMAN, Editor of KYIV NOT KIEV
Tetiana Gaiduk – Creative Services Director at TRUMAN, co-founder and co-host at KYIV NOT KIEV

Victoria Dubiv is a Project Manager at TRUMAN Agency, Editor of KYIV NOT KIEV

Tetiana Gaiduk is Creative Services Director a TRUMAN Agency, Co-founder and co-host at KYIV NOT KIEV

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