One cannot help but feel outraged by the conduct of Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He, like millions of people around the world, is witnessing the unfolding horror of the Russian invasion of Ukraine but chooses to remain neutral.
Staying neutral in the context of the unspeakable crimes Putin is committing against innocent Ukrainian citizens?
In the name of Israel’s national security
Bennett evidently refuses to condemn the Russian butcher because of cold-blooded political calculations, which he justifies in the name of Israel’s national security.
Bennett’s motivations to assume neutrality are multi-faceted. They include his desire to act as a credible interlocutor between Ukraine and Russia. And they extend to wanting Russia’s continued cooperation in Syria to bomb Iranian military installations. Finally, he may be motivated by eliciting Russian support against a new Iran deal.
Betraying Israel’s founding moral principles
Either way, Bennet has gravely betrayed Israel’s founding moral principles.
Can Israel, given that its founding is intertwined with the Jews’ long and troubled history, assume a neutral posture when war crimes of such magnitude are occurring for all to see?
And how can Bennett abandon Israel’s basic moral tenets, presumably because of national security concerns over Iran’s nuclear weapons program?
Siding with a thug and a ruthless killer
By maintaining “neutrality,” Bennett is siding with a thug and a ruthless killer. Putin has become a pariah and war criminal who dishonors everyone who has not condemned him in the strongest terms.
When the Prime Minister of Israel does not rise to the fateful cry for help and does what is morally right by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel’s democratic allies and save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians, he is dangerously compromising the country’s international standing both on moral and political grounds.
What more evidence is needed?
The invasion of Ukraine is itself a horrendous crime against a sovereign nation and a gross violation of international law. Mass graves discovered in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, confirm that Russian forces have indeed committed war crimes.
These war crimes prove that Russia is intent on transgressing all boundaries of what the civilized world holds dear and sacred. This includes the dignity of human life and the right to live free from violence, brutality and cruelty.
The consequences of Israeli inaction
With all that unfolding horror, Bennett still refuses to provide air defense systems to stop these atrocities.
He could – and, at this juncture, he should – offer systems which can intercept projectiles without killing Russian soldiers, which understandably he wants to avoid. By refusing to do so, he has become indirectly complicit in the horrifying death and destruction.
A victim of moral numbness at home?
Israel’s detractors rightfully raise the question: Has the decades-long Israeli occupation and the harsh way the Palestinians are treated made Bennett so morally numb and apathetic to the growing tragedy of the Ukrainian people?
Consider his own biography: Bennett was born only five years after the occupation began. To him and many others, the oppressive and cruel occupation is simply a natural phenomenon.
Bennett and his followers should recall what the philosopher and theologian Abraham Heschel once said: “Who is a Jew? A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.”
Bennett must remember, politically or otherwise, Putin will vanish sooner or later, but Israel’s moral failure under his stewardship will haunt it for decades to come.
Israel’s relations with the United States
By not joining the United States in support of Ukraine in this desperate hour of need, Israel is opening itself to the questioning of its loyalty and strategic relevance to the U.S.
After all, nearly all the democracies in the world, following U.S. leadership, mobilized their resources against Putin’s evil design.
This raises the question as to why Israel should deserve favored treatment from the United States, especially now that it has rebuffed Biden’s call to aid Ukraine in a meaningful way to save lives.
Conclusion: The whole world is watching
Mr. Bennett’s betrayal of Israel’s moral foundation because of cold-blooded political calculations will haunt him and leave him morally naked in the eyes of Israel’s friends and foes alike.
Bennet must also realize that Israel’s fate is tied to the U.S.’s and the closer he ties it, the better it is for Israel. There must be no daylight between them, especially in the way of dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat. After all, that is where Israel’s ultimate security rests while still remaining strong to deter any enemy.
The current time window may well be Bennett’s last chance to redeem himself and put Israel on the right side of history.