Prizewinning Israeli author David Grossman criticized the country’s policy regarding the absorption of refugees from Ukraine, but offered praise for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meditation efforts in the conflict.
“It is very difficult, and I feel a kind of deep sense of shame, because we are a country that was born at the hands of refugees, and the refugee experience was so ingrained in us, and now we are witnessing it again on a huge scale,” Grossman said in an interview with Channel 13 news broadcast Saturday.
Asked about the need to maintain the Jewish character of the state in the wake of an influx of refugees, he said, “In these moments, you do not make calculations like this. It is not legitimate to make these calculations. And Israel needs to do all it can to do good.”
The war that began February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine has killed thousands and displaced millions.
“Running through my head are the pictures of what we are seeing now in the news, every evening, of the refugees in Ukraine and the little children. And I think, contrary to the poet’s words, God also has no mercy on the kindergarten children, in the end,” Grossman added, paraphrasing Yehuda Amichai.
Asked if Israel could be a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, Grossman expressed support for the prime minister’s efforts.
“I know it sounds like a joke, right? Many are mocking Prime Minister Bennett and I very much do not. I say, if he is able to save the life of one child, of one person, it’s very good that he flies on Shabbat, and meets with Putin, and shakes his hand,” he said.
Grossman cited the Talmudic phrase, “He who saves a life, saves the world entire.”
Grossman had previously praised the government led by Bennett, calling it “good and important,” despite criticizing Israel’s actions in the West Bank, which he claimed effectively turned it into an “apartheid” government.
But when it comes to Russia, he said that there is a clear narrative.
“For the first time in many years, we have here good versus bad. And it may sound simplistic, but I think that it is not simplistic,” he said.
Grossman also offered praise for the global intervention efforts in Ukraine.
“The way some European countries behave shows that these values are not just the values of soulful writers sitting in their basements. They can be the values of the entire nation,” he said.
He also gave tempered praise to US President Joe Biden, saying, “It is good that Biden woke up and began to do what is needed to be done.”
Grossman was honored with the Israel Prize, the country’s top civilian honor, in 2018, in recognition of his contributions to Hebrew literature. The author, who lost a son in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, is slated to release a new children’s book, “Every Wrinkle Has a Story.”