Ukraine’s Jewish population
Jews have lived in Ukraine for such a long time that their arrival here predates even the first recorded use of the country’s name. Starting in the ninth century, Jews began settling between Uzhgorod and Lugansk — respectively the westernmost and easternmost cities of what is now Ukraine.
Historically, though, Jews haven’t had an easy life in Ukraine for most of that time. In the 17th century, thousands were brutally butchered by the Cossack army of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Nonetheless, the area saw an influx of Jewish immigrants in the 18th century, when it became part of the Russian empire’s Pale of Settlement – a zone in which Jews were allowed to settle. Ukraine’s relative proximity to Moscow made it a preferred destination for Jews.
By 1939, there were no fewer than 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine. One was Sholem Aleichem, one of the world’s greatest Yiddish writers. Another was Chayyim Nahman Bialik, often seen as Israel’s national poet. Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, was born in Kiev. Zeev Jabotinsky, the ideological father of Israel’s Likud party, was from Odessa. And of course Ukraine’s current President Zelensky is Jewish.
When the Nazis occupied Ukraine in 1941 they murdered up to a million Jews. The most notorious massacre was at the Babi Yar ravine outside Kiev, where 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation on 29–30 September 1941.
Ukraine today has anywhere between 60,000 to 360,000 Jews, depending on the definitions of who’s counting. It also became a huge spiritual centre for Hasidic Judaism. It is dotted with the graves of luminaries, from the Baal Shem Tov, the father of Hasidism, in Medzhybizh to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s grave in Uman, where 30,000 of his followers gather annually for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
According to figures calculated on Sunday 13th March, 7,179 people have arrived in Israel from Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24. Approximately 5,000 of the Ukrainian refugees do not have Jewish ancestry and don’t have the right to immigrate under the Aliyah Law of Return. The rest are Ukrainian Jews who are now making Aliyah to Israel.
Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said that Israel would allow approximately 20,000 Ukrainians who were on tourist visas or in the country illegally before the Russian invasion to remain in the country. She added that Israel would also grant visas to a further 5,000 non-Jewish refugees seeking to escape the war, meaning that this limit has already been met. Many of the refugees are staying with friends or family in Israel. Two hotels in Tel Aviv are also being used to house refugees.
But among the new olim (immigrants to Israel) are several dozen Russian oligarchs of Jewish descent, who received Israeli citizenship over the past several years under the Law of Return. Like most uber-wealthy Russians, these oligarchs necessarily have warm relations with the Russian government and even the president, Vladimir Putin. The list includes Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and Viktor Vekselberg, all of whom have been targeted by international sanctions against Russia.
Israel is not currently preparing sanctions on Russian oligarchs according to senior Israeli officials, however Foreign Minister Yair Lapid declared that “Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries.” Roman Abramovitch has now left Israel and is back in Moscow.
Iran deal a threat to Israel
A last minute Russian demand is holding up the deal that would see sanctions rolled back on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. Russia wants guarantees that Western sanctions targeting Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine would not affect its business with Iran.
The US is pressing for a deal to be sealed soon, which is causing grief to Israel. Israel feels betrayed by US President Biden pressing on with his plan to sign a deal with Iran, which they say will endanger Israel and the region. It’s widely accepted by now that in his zeal to get Iran to sign a nuclear deal—any nuclear deal, apparently–Biden has squandered America’s enormous leverage and caved to virtually every Iranian demand.
Biden now appears eager to capitulate at the negotiating table in Vienna to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime that funds and instructs Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthi movement in Yemen, whose catchy slogan is “Allah is Greater, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.” He’ll then declare that mission a success.
A former intelligence officer specializing on Iranian terrorism, Michael Pregent, writing in Newsweek said: “If the Biden administration jumps back into the Iran nuclear deal without addressing undeclared sites, sunset clauses, ballistic missiles, regional behaviour, terrorism and human rights, then it will have entered a worse deal than even the one in 2015.”
Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt, warned of the danger of threats generated by Iran which he called, “The largest state sponsor of anti-Semitism on the planet, constantly churning out genocidal memes and disseminating hostile propaganda against Jews,” one whose “stated desire to annihilate the Jewish state must be taken seriously.”
Beyond this genocidal threat to Israel, Greenblatt adds the broader “danger that Iran poses to the region and the world through its support of proxy militias and employment of terror as statecraft,” with “activities that span nearly every continent as they have left death and debris in their wake in countries such as Argentina, Lebanon, Turkey, Bulgaria and even in the U.S.”
Biden’s own Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie has called Iran’s 3,000 ballistic missiles “the greatest threat to the region’s security.” Nothing in the deal addresses that threat.
It’s perplexing why Biden would think that freeing up billions in sanctions relief to such a terror regime in return for dubious promises from a cheating and deceitful country would be such a good idea.
Israel seeks to make peace talks between Russia and Ukraine
Israeli PM Naftali Bennet made a surprise visit to Moscow for talks with President Putin on March 5th to try to mediate peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. He also spoke with Ukrainian President Zelensky. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (17 March) the talks mediated by Bennett led to the first draft of the ceasefire agreement, currently being discussed. He is one of the few world leaders to speak regularly to both sides, providing a rare glimmer of hope for ending the 3-week-old war. President Zelensky, stated that he was ready for high-level peace talks with Russia, marking Jerusalem as a possible location.
Jerusalem is apparently itching to host ceasefire talks between the two countries. The flags of both Russia and Ukraine were projected onto Jerusalem’s Old City walls, along with the image of two doves and the words: “He who makes peace in his high heaven. We are waiting for you.” The phrase “He who makes peace in his high heaven” (Oseh Shalom Bimromav in Hebrew) comes from Job 25:2. It has found its way into numerous parts of Jewish liturgy, and is always added to with a plea for God to bring His peace also upon the people of Israel: ‘He who makes peace in His high heaven, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel; and they all said, Amen.’
A statement released by the Jerusalem Municipality at the weekend read: ‘Jerusalem, the State of Israel’s capital is a city of peace and coexistence. We are in favour of an end to the fighting and the sides reaching understandings. We would be happy to answer the request of the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and host the diplomatic dialogue between the two countries here in Jerusalem.’
Walls of Jerusalem with Russian and Ukrainian flags and Hebrew verse calling for peace.
Russian Military Patrol on Israel’s Northern Border
Russian army vehicles with the “Z” symbol have also been spotted on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. A photo of a Russian military patrol on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights is currently making headlines on social networks. It shows Russian military vehicles with the “Z” symbol now so familiar from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But this time they aren’t in Ukraine, but rather at the foot of the snowy Mount Hermon, on the Syrian side of the strategic Golan Heights.
According to a report by the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, the photo is said to be from a video published by Russian media just a few days ago.
The video shows soldiers and vehicles patrolling the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Some Russian soldiers wore combat uniforms with the letter “Z” printed on them, and military vehicles were also painted with the letter “Z”, a symbol used by Russia to identify its forces in their “special military operation” against Ukraine.
According to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, the letter Z on Russian military vehicles stands for “victory,” while “V” stands for “the power of truth” and “the mission is accomplished.
Russia has recently told Israel that it does not recognise Israeli control of the Golan Heights and that these should be returned to Syria. There is no way Israel will do this unless they are forced to do so by an invasion from Syria.
Russian military vehicles on Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Sea of Galilee Continues to Rise
The biblical lake is very nearly full to capacity after long years of drought. The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary fresh water reservoir, is a mere 67.5 centimeters (2’2″) from being full to capacity. That’s something of a miracle considering the long years of drought the country experienced in the past decade.
With a fresh layer of snow falling early March and more rain and snow in the upper Golan region forecast across the north of Israel, the Sea of Galilee (known in Hebrew as the Kinneret) will rise even further.