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Netanyahu speaks to Ukrainian leader, vows to renew Hassidic pilgrimages to Uman

In conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky, PM urges Ukraine to accept Israel’s ‘Green Pass’ amid threats from Bratslav community to boycott upcoming elections over pilgrimage ban

Ukrainian border guards block the road to Jewish pilgrims on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, September 15, 2020. (TUT.by via AP)
Ukrainian border guards block the road to Jewish pilgrims on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, September 15, 2020. (TUT.by via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a bid to have Kyiv recognize Israel’s ‘Green Pass’ for the vaccinated to allow travel to Ukraine, including for Hassidic pilgrims to Uman.

Netanyahu said they spoke about “cooperation on the vaccine and recognizing Israel’s Green Pass so that the vaccinated can soon visit Ukraine, including Uman.”

Ties were strained last year when thousands of Jewish pilgrims tried to get to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, despite a coronavirus travel ban imposed by Ukraine, ending with a tense standoff between the pilgrims and Ukrainian guards on the borders with Belarus and Moldova.

Uman usually sees tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav for the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

File: Pilgrims to Uman celebrating at the grave of Rebbe Nachman, September 7, 2013. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The incident caused great anger among the Bratslav community who accused Israeli authorities, and the ultra-Orthodox parties, of not doing enough to help them after then-coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu appealed to Zelensky directly, without notifying Netanyahu, to ask him to prevent the pilgrimage, fearing returning pilgrims could drive up infection rates in the Jewish state.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 24, 2019. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Netanyahu’s conversation on Friday came after the Bratslav community threatened to boycott the upcoming March 23 elections over the issue, with activists putting up posters saying “My Rosh Hashanah is above all else. We will not meet at the polls.”

The posters had crossed out symbols of the two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, and warned: “The Bratslav community says in a clear voice: We will not forget, we will not forgive.”

Earlier Friday, UTJ lawmakers signed a pledge promising to work to allow pilgrimages to go ahead this year, Channel 12 reported.

UTJ  and Shas are key allies of Netanyahu in a race that is seen as too close to call.

The travel ban to Uman caused much anger with scenes of worshipers held for up to 17 hours at Ukrainian airports, while those that made it into the country before clashed with locals.

Videos posted to social media showed angry crowds confronting the pilgrims, pushing and shoving them as they tried to prevent them from entering apartments they had rented. Residents yelled in Ukrainian at the Hasidim to get out and told them they were acting dangerously.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 1,425,522 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ukraine, with 27,685 deaths. With daily rates still high, there has been wide resistance in the country to vaccines.

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