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Zelensky’s Stoking Antisemitic Flames Could Get Himself Burned

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

What Russia is doing in Ukraine is an unconscionable atrocity. I’m not one who thinks that just because Ukraine has a horrific history of antisemitism and slaughter of Jews over centuries (much of which by Ukrainians against their neighbors and cannot be explained away by Soviet and Nazi occupation) that they deserve what’s happening. Not at all.


Not only that, in addition to establishing a fund to provide relief for Ukrainians in Ukraine and those who have fled, I’ve admired how they have fought back and resisted Russia, and I have credited Ukrainian president Zelensky for leading his country in this campaign.

Some months ago, after the Russian invasion, I noted that throughout history, when conflict comes to Ukraine, Jews get caught in the crosshairs. Sadly, Zelensky, the Jewish president of Ukraine, is making that a reality. 

Despite believing in the overall justice of their resistance against Russia, I’m tired of Ukraine in general and Zelensky in specific, blaming Israel repeatedly for not doing enough to help them, and now for Russia’s increased alliance with and reliance upon Iran in its military assault on Ukraine.

Zelensky is simply making up nonsensical arguments as if Russia needed an excuse to turn to Iran, or Iran as the leader of global terror needed an excuse to be a willing enabler if not partner in the attack on Ukraine. Nobody should be surprised. And nobody can legitimately blame Israel for this.

The problem with Zelensky’s absurd allegations are not just that they’re stupid and inaccurate. It also stokes antisemitism by holding Israel to a standard that he does not hold others. It stokes antisemitism by criticizing and blaming the one and only Jewish state for any aspect of Russia’s attack and ongoing assault. It’s wrong and it’s offensive and it, sadly, affirms that when conflict comes, Jews are caught in the crosshairs.


I appreciate Zelensky’s very real concerns about defending his country which does face a sort of existential threat, albeit nowhere near that of Israel. Zelensky seems to think that countries that face existential threats of one sort or another, are natural allies, or at least those that are threatened the most should help the most. By his rationale, Israel should be leading the fight against Russia. He clearly doesn’t understand or care about the actual degree to which Israel faces a threat: not to be occupied and have another flag raised or puppet government installed, albeit with a huge trail of blood along the way. Israel faces a threat to be wiped out with an Iranian nuclear weapon, and the massacre not of thousands but millions. 

If Zelensky actually understood or cared, he and Ukraine would not have such an abysmal voting record on Israel and the threats is faces. He and Ukraine would actually have stood with Israel for decades, providing at least genuine moral support and votes in the UN and elsewhere that reflect that.

But no. Ukraine’s voting record does not reflect that of an ally. It does not give him and Ukraine the standing to hold Israel to a higher standard, much less blame Israel for Russia’s atrocities or alliance with Iran. 

If Zelensky had any credibility on this, he’d surely make the same expectation of other countries, even if not all of them. He could start with the other “I” countries: Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland and Italy. Ok, maybe not Iran.


As a Ukrainian Jew, Zelensky should know that his country has a long history of persecution and murder of its Jews.  As my grandmother once said, their land is soaked in our blood. She did not mean that rhetorically. 

There’s a theory that in addition to providing tremendous humanitarian relief and taking in a number of refugees far greater than the US and many other countries on a per capita basis, Israel is in fact supplying significant military support to Ukraine under the radar. The theory goes that part of Zelensky’s repeated public criticism is to provide a smoke screen for Israel to maintain plausible deniability.  Why would Israel want that?  Because Israel also maintains a tenuous balancing act with Russia which controls much of Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor/enemy, in which Israel has needed to carry out multiple military actions to destroy or interrupt Iran’s growing presence there, and using Syria as a place where it can threaten Israel in relatively short range. 

Of course, now that Russia and Iran are connected in attacking Ukraine, all bets are off as to how much Russia cares about Iran’s growing presence or influence in Syria, how that’s a threat to Israel, or how much Russia will turn a blind eye to the ongoing Israeli military operations against Iran in Syria. 


Nevertheless, Zelensky’s engaging in public criticism of Israel does sow already fertile (blood soaked) soil for antisemitism in Ukraine, in Russia, and elsewhere. It’s no surprise that CNN has picked up and reported on its criticism of Israel, as if it’s justified.  Ether way, they have also become party to the seeding of antisemitism. 

Maybe Zelensky doesn’t realize that he’s doing so, too caught up in the war and very legitimate concerns of defending his country.  That’s understandable but still wrong, the same way that just because Kanye West is bipolar, it does not justify his antisemitic rants and threats.  A leader of integrity would know this, behave properly, and when pointed out to him, perhaps express remorse, but at least stop in the dangerous fanning flames of antisemitism. 

How dangerous? When antisemitism comes, all Jews are threatened.  Even if Zelensky is the best Ukrainian leader, that won’t prevent him from being in the crosshairs, and not prevent him from being dragged out one day and shot in front of the central Kyiv statue of Bogdan Chmelnicki one of the biggest Ukrainian “heroes,” a vile antisemite and who led a Cossack rebellion in the 1640s-50s, leading to the death of as many as 100,000 Jews, to eradicate Jews from Ukraine. Zelensky will not be spared the antisemitic fires he’s stoking and, in the tradition of Ukrainian “heroes” like Chmelnicki, and could get burned. 


One does not win friends and support by unjustifiably blaming others for something that they have no involvement in or responsibility toward, and certainly not in calling out the one Jewish state, disingenuously, as being to blame. Zelensky should not be opening another front where he risks diminishing sympathy and support by blaming the Jews. 

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