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Israel: still wide gaps between Ukraine, Russia

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been trying to mediate an end to the conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine. 

 By Erin Viner

“There’s still a long way to go, because … there are several issues in dispute, some of them fundamental,” the Israeli leader said in a speech yesterday, according to a transcript provided by his office.

Bennett added that Jerusalem, “together with other friends in the world, will continue trying to to bridge the gap and bring an end to the war.”

Ukrainian Prsident Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the Israeli Knesset on Sunday, used his daily video update to his nation to express appreciation for Bennett’s continuous efforts to act as an intermediary with Russia. Bennett has not only maintained contact with the leaders of both countries since outbreak of the conflict, but he also secretly flew to Moscow to hold direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.

“We are grateful for his efforts, so that sooner or later we will begin to have talks with Russia – possibly in Jerusalem,” said President Zelenskyy, adding, “That’s the right place to find peace, if possible.”

Israel has condemned the Russian invasion and expressed solidarity with Kyiv,  but has so far held back from fulfilling Zelenskyy’s requests for military assistance.

The Jewish State has also shipped unprecedented levels of aid to Ukraine. Prime Minister Bennett attended a departure ceremony at the Ben Gurion International Airport yesterday for the Israeli aid delegation that is establishing a ₪21 million shekel ($6.4 million or €5.83 million) field hospital in western Ukraine equipped to meet the medical needs for dozens of patients on a daily basis.

The Israeli hospital will be named Kochav Meir (the “Shining Star of Meir” in Hebrew) in tribute of former Prime Minister Golda Meir. The late leader was born in Ukraine and the founder of the State of   Israel’s Mashav national aid agency for International Development Cooperation at the MFA.

“Israel has been extending its hand to render assistance in the crisis in Ukraine for several weeks now, from the very first moment – in various ways. We are managing this unfortunate crisis with sensitivity, generosity and responsibility, while maintaining a balance between the various factors – and they are complex. From the very first days, we dispatched assistance planes with many tons of medical equipment, medicine and other things,” he said during the ceremony.

“The people of Israel and the Israeli public can be proud of the contribution and the assistance of the State of Israel to the citizens of Ukraine. Be proud of all the actions that the State of Israel is doing: shipments of medicine, establishing a field hospital, actions in other areas – there are not many countries acting on such a scale,” Bennett pointed out. He went on to tell the departing aid workers that the Israeli government is “at your disposal day and night, for any issue or problem, 24 hours a day. Do not hesitate to call,” adding thanks for their critical mission on behalf of the Government of Israel and the Israeli public, saying, “We love you very much.”

Also in attendance were Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, coalition chairperson MK Idit Silman, Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nahman Ash, Chaim and other relevant officials.

“We’re sending with this field hospital not only the best medical staff in the world, but also our hearts, our support, and our empathy. This is a brutal and unnecessary war, and it needs to stop,” noted Minister Lapid, underscoring “We’re doing this for Ukrainian children, but our children also must know that the State of Israel doesn’t stand aside. Where there is suffering and fear, we will extend a comforting hand and do everything to help.”

The Israeli Foreign Minister traveled to East Europe last week for talks about the Ukrainian refugee crisis with the leaders on Romania and Slovakia, while also inspecting the Siret border crossing between Ukraine and Romania.

“Since nearly the first day of the war, Israel has been sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel are standing at border crossings in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Poland, directing into Ukraine trucks with medical equipment, generators, and warm clothing,” he said.

“Go in peace, and return in peace,” Minister Lapid told the departing delegation, expressing pride and admiration of the team’s “courage and dedication that made you volunteer for and embark on this mission.”

Israel has also launched “Operation Returning Home” aimed at rescuing endangered Ukrainian Jews who may want to emigrate into the country of just over 9.3 million; as well as offer safe refuge to some 25,000 Ukrainians who are not eligible for immigration.

In addition, the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency has created the ‘Aliyah (Immigration) Express’ program to help expedite Ukrainian Immigration to Israel, aimed at streamlining its operations on the ground anticipation of a massive wave of new immigrants from Ukraine.

According to a statement from the agency, 4,000 Jewish Ukrainian refugees have immigrated to Israel since the outbreak of war with 4,500 refugees currently set to come. The organization has also mobilized humanitarian and rescue operations in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova where 8,000 refugees so far have been sheltered.

“Seeing the Jewish world come together the way it has on behalf of Ukrainian Jewry is truly amazing. Our operations are made possible by donations of tens of millions of dollars from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Keren Hayesod, and friends of Israel from around the world,” said Amira Ahronoviz, CEO and Director General of The Jewish Agency.

Revealing that the agency is “also implementing the government’s decision to resume Operation Tzur Israel, which will soon bring 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, she stressed that “Rescuing Jews of Ukraine and Ethiopia are part of the moral duty and mission of our organization.”

Meanwhile dozens of Holy Land and Jerusalem religious leaders of all faiths gathered outside of the Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem’s Moscow Square in a united call for peace in Ukraine.

“We recite a holy call on behalf of hundreds of millions of believers around the world to stop the killing in Ukraine,” said Rabbi Rasson Arousi of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, according to a statement from the event’s co-sponsors, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD) and the Elijah Interfaith Institute.

“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore,” said the rabbi, citing the Prophet Isaiah.

Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion of Rahat said, “All leaders must choose the path of peace. Anyone who saves one soul is if that person saved the entire world.”

Other speakers included His Beatitude Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Rabbi David Rosen, and Muslim and Druze religious leaders.

The interfaith gathering follows the delivery of an interfaith letter to Patriarch Kirill, calling on him use his position as head of the Russian Orthodox Church to speak with President Vladimir Putin to seek peace. The letter was signed 150 Jerusalem and global religious leaders and clergy, including Father Pizzaballa, H.E. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Sri Sri Ravi Sankar, Dharma Master Hsin Dao, Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric and Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem emeritus Aryeh Stern.