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March 23, 2022 10:54 am

‘Putin Is Blackmailing You’: Top Ukrainian Rabbi Urges Israel to Recognize Threat Posed by Russia

avatar by Ben Cohen

Cargo shipments en route to Israel’s field hospital in Western Ukraine. Photo: Sivan Shachor / Israeli Foreign Ministry

Ukraine’s chief rabbi has criticized the government of Israel for being insufficiently disapproving of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, insisting at the same time that Russia’s relationship with terrorist organizations in the Middle East made it an adversary of the Jewish state.

“I speak on Israeli television and on the radio almost every day,” Rabbi Moshe Azman told the NV Ukraine news outlet. “I said, Putin doesn’t take you into account on anything. Putin accepts all kinds of enemies of Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah — and he says that they are friends.”

Israeli policy towards Ukraine has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Knesset on Sunday. The Ukrainian government has been urging Israel to supply its armed forces with weaponry and impose tougher sanctions on Russia.

Azman said that he understood that Israel — which is dealing with a Russian military presence supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria — was in a “difficult situation, fighting for its existence.”

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However, “Putin is blackmailing Israel with Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran,” he argued.

He said he had called on Israel to supply Ukraine with its Iron Dome anti-missile system. “This is not an offensive weapon, it’s for the defense and protection of civilians,” Azman said. “Israel does not give, because Putin is pressuring them.”

Various questions have been raised by defense experts over the potential effectiveness of the Iron Dome for Ukraine’s defense, among them the logistical challenge of transporting its components into the country while circumventing Russian forces. Extensive training in its use would also be required. In addition, some experts believe the Iron Dome system would not guard against much of Russia’s wide-ranging arsenal of missiles and artillery.

Azman also criticized Israeli policy towards refugees from the conflict, saying that he was advising those fleeing the Russian onslaught to head to Europe instead.

Pointing out that he had signed a statement endorsed by 85 prominent Ukrainian Jews demanding that Israel loosen its restriction on Ukrainian entry, Azman said: “When people leave Ukraine and are hesitant about where to go, I tell them right away, don’t try to go to Israel.”

He continued: “Israel is not ready to accept refugees, even Jews have problems … I say: better go to Europe, they are ready to receive people there now.”

Under rules laid out by Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on March 10, 20,000 Ukrainians who were in Israel, many of them illegally, were permitted to remain. Shaked also set an additional quota of 5,000 Ukrainians who would be accepted following the outbreak of hostilities. A further rule requires Ukrainian citizens traveling to Israel to submit an application to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a travel permit before boarding a plane.

Azman confirmed that he had no plans to leave Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, despite the ongoing war.

“I evacuated my family far away — to Israel,” he said. “Until I evacuated my little grandchildren, and I have many of them, while they were under fire, I could neither eat nor drink. When they left, I was no longer scared.”

Azman added: “You see that you are needed here, that there are people left here who need help and morale. If they see that the rabbi has left, it means that everything is very bad. I won’t leave Kyiv and Ukraine, to make it clear that everything will be fine.”

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