Jewish-Ukrainian MP slams Israel’s silence on Crimea

Visiting Jerusalem, Oleksandr Feldman says he expects more security, humanitarian aid for 400,000-strong community

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Feldman (photo credit: courtesy: Ukrainian Jewish Committee)
Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Feldman (photo credit: courtesy: Ukrainian Jewish Committee)

Israel is not doing enough in word or deed to help the Jewish residents of Ukraine during the current crisis occurring in their country, a Ukrainian member of parliament and senior member of the local community charged Sunday in Jerusalem.

“We did expect a clearer stance on everything that’s going on. There are 400,000 Jewish citizens in Ukraine and we did expect a little bit more of Israel,” said Oleksandr Feldman, a lawmaker in Kiev since 2002. “I’m a bit disappointed by [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman,” he added, referring to a rather toothless statement the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem released Wednesday, reportedly after American pressure.

“Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, is anxious for peace for all its citizens, and hopes that the situation will not escalate to a loss of human life. Israel hopes the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully,” the ministry’s statement read in full.

Feldman, a member of the centrist Party of Regions since 2011, said that no meetings with senior government officials have been arranged for him during his present visit to Israel. During his last trip to Israel, about two months ago, he met with Liberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, he said, and “appealed to the Israeli government to take a clear stance on what’s happening in the Ukraine.”

At the time, pro-European demonstrators were taking to the streets across Ukraine, protesting the government’s decision to forgo rapprochement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow. Russian troops had not yet invaded the Crimean peninsula at the time of his last visit.

Eduard Dolinsky, director-general of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Jewish Committee, who is accompanying Feldman on his Israel trip, also criticized the government for its bland statement regarding the present standoff between Ukraine and Russia.

“As the Jewish community of Ukraine, we are very frustrated by the reaction of the Israeli government on the current crisis,” Dolisnky said at a press conference with Feldman, organized by the Jerusalem Press Club. “It is so soft that I didn’t even understand what they are talking about. This is such diplomatic language, it is simply disappearing in words.” He urged the Israeli government to issue a “clear a statement of support for people who are struggling for their freedom, strong support for a country that is struggling for its sovereignty and independence.”

Anti-government protesters shout slogans at Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday (photo credit: Bulent Kilic/AFP)
Anti-government protesters shout slogans at Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday (photo credit: Bulent Kilic/AFP)

The skullcap-wearing Feldman, who has served as the Ukrainian Jewish Committee’s president since 2008, said the Israeli government “could do much, much more” to assist Ukrainian Jewry and to fight anti-Semitism. For instance, he said, nine Ukrainian citizens who were injured during the violent protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square had been flown to Israel for medical treatment but had not received any additional financial support.

“It is not a lot of money. Israel could afford to make a humanitarian act out of that,” said Feldman, speaking in Russian through an interpreter.

“People from all parts of Ukraine asked us, shall we stay [in Ukraine] or shall we [leave, for fear of violence], and all these questions could have been prevented if Israel had taken a clear stance on what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Feldman. “Everything we do in Ukraine we always present as a joint venture with Israel.”

Dolinsky said that so far, the Jewish Agency has only provided $5,000 to the Jewish communities of the Crimea region “to help with security.” But a few weeks ago, during the Ukrainian Jewish Committee’s last visit to Israel, it had asked the Israeli government to send to Ukraine a team of Israeli security professionals, which would “inspect the situation, with the community infrastructure — first of all synagogues and Jewish schools — and come up with plan what we can do about security,” he said. “This request has not yet been implemented,” he said.

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