In Ukraine, a Pro-Israel President Faces Off against a Jewish Comedian

April 1 2019

Yesterday, Ukraine held the first round of its presidential election; once the results are finalized, the two candidates with the most votes will then compete in a runoff election. The apparent frontrunner is Jewish, while his opponent in the next election, the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, prides himself on good relations with Israel and with Ukraine’s Jewish community, which is one of the largest in Europe. Vladislav Davison writes:

At the end of January, Poroshenko took a break from an increasingly frenetic election campaign to pay a visit to Jerusalem in order to sign a long-awaited free-trade accord, seven years in the making, which is expected to raise annual trade between the two nations above the symbolic billion-dollar threshold. The speech that followed the deal’s signing reiterated a now popular Ukrainian trope: surrounded by powerful enemies, after centuries without any concrete experience of self-government, Ukrainians should emulate the Israeli experiment. . . .

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, [Poroshenko’s opponent], is a forty-one-year-old Jewish comedian whose primary [qualification] for the job is his experience playing a school teacher [on a popular television show] who becomes president of Ukraine due to a surreal turn of fate. . . . Ukraine’s young activists have taken to clustering around Zelenskiy, who has run a sophisticated media-driven campaign heavy on stand-up comedy. . . .

Whatever his flaws, and irrespective of his chances at re-election, Poroshenko will likely be remembered by the history books as the president who was most attentive to the work of honoring Holocaust memory since Ukraine gained its independence. . . . The 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, held in 2016, was an international event conducted by Poroshenko and his administration with immense tact and generosity. Poroshenko has also been personally comfortable with Jewish aides, including both of his chiefs of staff and the country’s current prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman.

The surrealism of the current election campaign aside, the Jewish community of Ukraine lives an undeniably normal life. It is a community with thriving institutions living in what, according to numerous polls, is likely the least anti-Semitic nation in the post-Soviet world.

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More about: Israel diplomacy, Politics & Current Affairs, Ukraine, Ukrainian Jews

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy