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Moscow urged to 'stop attack, respect Ukraine's soveregnty'

Condemning Russia on global stage, Israel at UN says Ukraine invasion must end

Deputy ambassador, speaking instead of boss Erdan on orders from Lapid, tells General Assembly emergency session that Jerusalem is prepared to mediate between sides if called upon

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Deputy Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations Noa Furman speaks during an emergency meeting of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Deputy Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations Noa Furman speaks during an emergency meeting of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, on March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Israel on Tuesday called on Russia to cease its attack on Ukraine from the stage of the UN General Assembly, taking another step closer to the US-led Western position against Moscow after initial apprehension to take sides due to fears of alienating the Kremlin.

Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Noa Furman called Russia’s invasion “a serious violation of the international order” in a speech during an emergency General Assembly session on Ukraine, echoing comments previously made by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

She urged Moscow “to heed the calls of the international community to stop the attack and respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”

“Given our deep ties with both sides, we are willing to contribute to the diplomatic efforts if so requested, and have been trying to do so in the last couple of weeks,” said Furman.

The deputy envoy expressed Jerusalem’s concern over the developing humanitarian crisis, including for Ukraine’s Jewish community, and highlighted the 100 tons of humanitarian assistance that Israel has sent to the conflict zone.

Israel calls on the sides to choose the “path of dialogue” in order to resolve the conflict, Furman said.

She spoke on behalf of the Israeli mission instead of Ambassador Gilad Erdan following orders from the Foreign Ministry, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

In a swipe at Erdan, a Jerusalem-based source familiar with the matter said Lapid wanted to be sure that whoever addressed the plenum would stick to the Israeli government’s messaging in order to avoid a diplomatic spat.

Erdan sent reporters a video clip of him embracing his Ukrainian counterpart Sergiy Kyslytsya in the General Assembly plenum on Monday evening. It was not clear whether this led to Lapid’s decision to pull Erdan’s appearance at the Tuesday debate.

But the Foreign Ministry reportedly has not taken to a number of Erdan’s recent steps, namely interviews he gave to the Israeli press without the government’s consent, contact with Likud activists and a decision to rip up a UN Human Rights Council report criticizing Israel during a speech at the plenum last November, which some in Jerusalem felt only attracted more attention to the matter.

A former Likud minister with aspirations to one day lead the party, Erdan is a holdover from the previous government led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He agreed to step down from his post as ambassador to the US after just one year when the new government was sworn in last June, but has stayed on in his post as UN ambassador.

His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Furman’s speech against Russia was a precursor to Israel’s expected vote in favor of a General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Lapid announced at the beginning of the week that Israel would vote in favor of the resolution, days after it refused a US request to cosponsor a similar measure in the Security Council. That decision on Friday led to a dress-down of the Israeli mission by US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan embraces his Ukrainian counterpart Sergiy Kyslytsya at the UN General Assembly plenum, on February 28, 2022. (Courtesy)

Since tensions between Russia and Ukraine began escalating, Israel has sought to avoid aligning too closely with either side. It’s one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, as well as Russia, which controls the airspace over Syria in which Israel operates to target Iranian proxies.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided condemning Russia or its President Vladimir Putin directly and has rejected Ukrainian requests for military aid. On the other hand, he has expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people and okayed multiple shipments of humanitarian aid.

Israel was not required to offer a statement during the emergency session that began on Monday and was slated to continue until Tuesday evening, with 110 of the General Assembly’s 193 members requesting to speak. But Jerusalem appears intent on clarifying that its hesitance in alienating Putin should not be interpreted as support for the invasion.

The General Assembly resolution could come to a vote as soon as Tuesday night, and is certain to pass, given the overwhelming international support for Ukraine.

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