Israel has been repeatedly condemned for supposedly being too neutral toward Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. But as Michael Oren argues, whatever scant evidence such criticism rested on has vanished. While asserting that Israel could do still more to help the beleaguered country, Oren lists the ways in which Jerusalem has “taken a principled stand.” (Subscription required.)
Israel supported a [United Nations] General Assembly resolution denouncing Russia’s aggression. More recently, the Jewish state has called for Russia’s ouster from the UN Human Rights Council. Explaining the vote, the Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid stated that “intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it.” Moscow’s Foreign Ministry responded with a blistering censure of his “anti-Russian attack.”
On the humanitarian front, Israel has been anything but dispassionate. In addition to shipping 100 tons of medical equipment, clothing, food, and other supplies to displaced Ukrainians, Israel set up the first foreign field hospital operating inside Ukrainian territory. A special unit in the Foreign Ministry is coordinating the transfer of individual and corporate donations to Israeli and international aid organizations assisting Ukrainian refugees.
These are hardly the actions of a neutral state. Though some observers would prefer Israel took an even firmer stance, they should consider how much easier it would have been for the Jewish state to remain entirely neutral. Among many incentives not to upset Moscow is the large Russian-speaking population in Israel and its need to maintain ties with their families back in Russia. There’s also Israel’s responsibility to the hundreds of institutions—daycare centers, senior-citizen facilities, schools—that serve Russia’s approximately 600,000 Jews. Such ties could be jeopardized by an anti-Putin position.
So, too, might the Israeli military’s ability to strike targets in Syria, which Iran is trying to transform into an offensive front against Israel. Doing so requires Israel to coordinate its actions with the thousands of Russian troops stationed in Syria. If Russia were to refuse to do this, it could cost Israeli lives.