Ukraine’s Jewish Leader, Israel’s Ambivalence, and Chabad’s Presence amid the Crisis

March 2 2022

In evaluating the unfolding war in Ukraine, Nathan Guttman sheds light on the role of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Guttman describes as “the most admired Jewish leader the world has to offer right now.” He also examines the meaning of the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s attempt to “play the Nazi card” in announcing his decision to invade Ukraine; Israel’s attempt to take a neutral stance in the conflict; and Chabad’s extraordinary leadership in Ukraine’s Jewish communities.

Before entering politics in 2018, Zelensky was a popular comedian (and you can’t get any more Jewish than that); he does not often speak about his Jewish identity, but he has never tried to hide it. In a country like Ukraine, which is still struggling with a painful legacy of anti-Semitism, Zelensky’s Jewishness has always been present.

For Jews across the world, Zelensky is now a source of pride: a young, inexperienced leader who is putting his life at risk for his people by leading a nation of 40 million people in opposing a ruthless Russian aggressor.

In his inauguration speech, Zelensky famously told lawmakers not to hang his portrait on their walls. “I do not want my picture in your offices: The president is not an icon, an idol, or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.”

True to form, Zelensky maintained his unassuming, direct style when crisis hit. His video messages, posted several times a day, have been helping reassure the Ukrainian people. He spoke from his office and from the streets of Kyiv, even as Russian troops closed in on the capital, and when the fighting intensified, Zelensky candidly shared with all Ukrainians the fact that he has been marked by the Russians as “target number one” and that his family is “target number two.” But when the U.S. offered to evacuate him from Kyiv to somewhere safer, he responded: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Read more at Moment

More about: Chabad, Volodomyr Zelensky, War in Ukraine

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount