Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is thanking Israel for its mediation efforts, but he had harsh words for the leadership when he addressed the Israeli lawmakers by videoconference Sunday, accusing the Jewish State of not doing enough to help Ukraine and comparing Russia’s assault to the Holocaust. The comparison is one many Israelis reject.
Looking tired and wearing his trademark army khaki T-shirt, President Zelenskyy spoke to the Israeli Knesset by Zoom for just under nine minutes. He repeatedly invoked the Holocaust.
The Ukrainian leader recalled how the Nazis did not want to leave any Jews alive, and how they called it the “Final Solution.” Zelenskyy said he knows Israelis will never forget that and he urged Israel to listen to how Moscow is also calling its invasion of Ukraine a final solution.
He went on to castigate Israel for not supplying arms to Ukraine, for not imposing sanctions on Russia, and for not accepting more Ukranian refugees.
It was the comparison to the Holocaust that sparked controversy here.
Dani Dayan, the chair of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, said Zelenskyy should apologize.
“Let’s make a clear differentiation between the Russian invasion, which is deplorable, and apparently there are a lot of actions taken by the Russian army that are apparently beyond the pale, and historical comparisons, the wrong historical equivalences that President Zelenskyy made, especially his reference to the final solution,” said Dayan.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took a more moderate position, saying that while the comparison is not appropriate, he understands Zelenskyy’s pain. Bennett spoke at a ceremony Monday for an Israeli field hospital that is being set up in Ukraine.
He said, we are managing this unfortunate crisis with sensitivity, generosity and responsibility, while maintaining a balance between the various factors — and they are complex, Bennett said.
A day after his speech to the Knesset, Zelenskyy changed his tone dramatically. In his nightly video address, he thanked Israel and Prime Minister Bennett for its mediation efforts. He said he hoped that sooner or later, Ukraine will begin to have talks with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem.