Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewishness

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was born in the Soviet Union, where “Jews were perceived as the eternal outsiders, possible fifth columnists, the ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ of Stalin’s imagination,” as Gal Beckerman writes. Beckerman traces Zelensky’s unlikely path to the top leadership role in Ukraine, and what it reveals about Ukrainian-Jewish life.

When asked about what his . . . Jewishness has meant to him, Zelensky has been blasé. In an interview in 2020, he said he came from “an ordinary Soviet Jewish family,” adding that “most Jewish families in the Soviet Union were not religious.” What this hides, though, is the reality that Jewish identity didn’t exist in the Soviet Union, because it couldn’t. To be a Jew from the time of Stalin onward was to have a stamp in your internal passport that marked you as such (just as a Ukrainian or Latvian national identity was also indicated). There was very little opportunity for Jewish community, religious practice, or even bare-bones cultural expression.

Until the late 1980s, gathering for something as innocuous as a Passover seder was practically a subversive act, and teaching Hebrew was simply not allowed.

By the time Zelensky came of age, three or four generations of Soviet Jews had experienced their Jewish identity as a hollow thing, nothing but a black mark on a passport and a sense of peoplehood born of exclusion and a second-class status. . . . When the Soviet Union began buckling to pressure to let Jews emigrate in the 1970s, many took the opportunity to do so. . . . By the early 1990s, just after the Soviet collapse, the permitted trickle became a deluge, and about 1.5 million headed to the United States and Israel.

Zelensky and his family were part of the few hundred thousand Jews who stayed, content to assimilate in a post-Soviet world, in which Zelensky found success, first as an actor and then as a politician. . . . In the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, not far from where Zelensky grew up, there are now ten synagogues and a gargantuan community center called Menorah, opened in 2012, that reportedly serves 40,000 people a day—even though there are only 60,000 Jews in Dnipro. By 2019, a Pew Research Center poll found Ukraine the most accepting of Jews among all Central and East European countries.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Jewish World, Volodomyr Zelensky, War in Ukraine

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy