Hypocrisy all round

Moshé Machover highlights the selective condemnations of oppression and explains why Israel’s prime minister can pose as the peacemaker

Some errors, such as Freudian slips, are instructive and thought-provoking. On February 24, the day Russia began its full-scale, barbarous invasion of Ukraine, USA Today discovered that a photo circulating widely in the social media, and purporting to show a fiery blast and smoke behind a pair of high-rise buildings near Kharkiv, was not quite genuine.

The photo was real enough, but it was shot in the Gaza Strip, during the May 2021 Israeli bombardment of that besieged ghetto.1 This revealing mix-up (or hoax?) is used by the Israeli-British leftwing historian, Ilan Pappé, as an introduction to his excellent article exposing the hypocrisy of the west’s political elites and tame media.2 He draws “four lessons from Ukraine” under the following sarcastic headings:

Among the ironic facts he mentions the following two stand out:

Let me add that, under a previous pro-Nato government, Ukraine took part in the devastation of Iraq.3

None of this is meant or should be allowed to justify the mega-criminal Russian invasion. In any case, our full solidarity is extended to Ukraine’s people, not to its politicians. The point is that condemning aggression and oppression is hollow when it is selective.

Having drawn attention to Pappé’s article, I would like to add here a few remarks regarding Israel’s political conduct during the present crisis.


Israel makes a strict distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish Ukrainians who arrive and request to be let in. The former are admitted according to the racist Law of Return, which entitles them automatically to Israeli citizenship.

In contrast, non-Jews are faced with formidable hurdles. They are not granted refugee status, but given short-term tourist visas. On top of this, they are required to prove that they have an Israeli relative who invited them; if there is no such relative, they must prove they would not settle in Israel. Moreover, the host is required to deposit a surety of 10,000 shekels (£2,322) on the applicant’s behalf and, if the latter is not a first-degree relative, promise that they would leave the country within a month. Unsurprisingly, very few have managed to get through these barriers. (Following wide criticism, the deposit requirement is currently being reviewed.)

The reason behind this policy was made clear by interior minister Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s double-plus version of Priti Patel. She has noted with alarm that over 90% of Ukrainians arriving at Israel’s borders are not Jewish and that the influx of non-Jewish refugees “cannot go on”. The Israeli Immigration Policy Centre has warned that an intake of non-Jewish refugees threatens the Jewish state with a “ticking demographic time bomb” - a persistent Zionist nightmare.4 This anxiety is, however, relieved by the prospect of an influx of between 100,000 and 200,000 Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Russia.

Cosy relations

Western observers have noted that Israel has been dragging its feet in the matter of condemnation of Russia’s aggression and the sanctions imposed on it by the US and its camp followers. In fact, Israel’s relationship with Putin’s Russia has been quite cosy for the last 20 years - which may seem surprising, given Israel’s position as a close ally and protégé of the US.

This relationship is no doubt smoothed by the large Israeli community of immigrants from Russia, who have kept strong personal and cultural ties with their country of origin. Among them are some oligarchs - most notably Putin’s confidant, Roman Abramovich, who is an Israeli citizen and one of its top billionaires (he holds Portuguese as well as Russian citizenship).

But the main motive for Israel’s almost friendly relations with Russia is strategic. It has to do with Russia’s strong presence in Syria, where it has helped the Assad regime to stay in power and suppress its opponents: first the leftwing opposition and then the various reactionary Islamist insurgents. For Israeli strategy, the most important aspect of Russia’ presence is its control of Syria’s airspace. For many years, Israel has been conducting what it calls a “campaign between the wars” (CBW): a series of assassinations, intelligence raids and low-level military operations short of a full-scale war, designed to sustain and enhance Israel’s regional strategic hegemony.

Among the main targets of the CBW are Iran and its allies, especially the Lebanese Hezbollah. An important part of these operations are frequent raids by the Israeli airforce against targets in Syria that include Iranian troops and supply lines of military materials and equipment to Hezbollah. But Israeli incursions into Syria’s airspace require not only Russia’s consent, but detailed coordination.

This has been made perfectly evident by an incident in September 2018, when Syrian defences accidentally shot down a Russian IL-20 military intelligence plane. The Syrians were attempting to hit four Israeli Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters that were attacking Syrian targets; the Russian plane got in the way, because its pilot was unaware of the Israeli planes’ presence in that vicinity.

Since then, Russia requires precise Israeli notification of its intended raids into Syria. (A good question: why does Russia allow Israel to do as it pleases in Syria? The answer is that Russia is concerned to preserve the Assad regime; but it is not too keen on allowing Iran too much influence in Syria, which could rival its own.)

Following the Russian assault on Ukraine, Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has been able to leverage his unique position as a close ally of the US, as well as a regular interlocutor with Russia: he has volunteered to serve as peace mediator. This is a somewhat risky gamble: it may raise his domestic and international profile and prestige, but it could attract criticism for cosying up to Putin. Bennett is no doubt aware of the risks and he will keep the Americans closely informed of his talks with Putin.

He will continue so long as Biden and his advisors are interested in keeping open this side channel of communication with their Russian adversary.

  1. eu.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2022/02/24/fact-check-gaza-strip-not-ukraine-pictured-explosion-photo/6922317001.↩︎

  2. ‘Navigating our humanity: Ilan Pappé on the four lessons from Ukraine’ Palestine Chronicle March 4 2022: www.palestinechronicle.com/navigating-our-humanity-ilan-pappe-on-the-four-lessons-from-ukraine.↩︎

  3. There were up to 1,650 Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq from 2003 to 2008. See Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-National_Force_–_Iraq.↩︎

  4. Ha’aretz March 6 2022: www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-israeli-minister-90-of-ukrainians-refugees-are-non-jews-situation-cannot-go-on-1.10655497.↩︎