Sharansky: Israel must take ‘a clear moral stand’ against Putin over Ukraine

Israel must be careful, says Ukraine-born human rights icon; Western weakness gave Putin ‘keys to the skies’ in our area, but only ‘absolute solidarity of free world’ can stop him

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Former refusenik, prison of Zion, Soviet dissident and Israeli cabinet minister, Natan Sharansky in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Former refusenik, prison of Zion, Soviet dissident and Israeli cabinet minister, Natan Sharansky in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Natan Sharansky, the former prisoner of Zion, human rights activist, Israeli government minister and Jewish Agency chief, urged Israel to take “a clear moral stand” against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.

Sharansky, who was born in what is now Donetsk, Ukraine, called Putin’s attack a challenge to “all the basic principles of the free world.”

In an interview Monday with The Times of Israel, he said he had found himself “in a minority of one” when expressing similar sentiments in several Hebrew media appearances: “Others have put it to me that Israel’s prime moral obligation is to protect our citizens, and that if that means staying silent or not irritating Vladimir Putin, so be it — a case of realpolitik overriding moral clarity.”

And the fact is, he stressed, “it’s not cowardice for Israel to seek to avoid irritating Putin. We are in a situation where, because of the weakness of the West, Putin holds the keys to the skies in our area. To protect ourselves from Iran, from the military bases Iran would establish [directly across Israel’s borders], we need good ties with Russia.”

Nonetheless, Sharansky argued, “this is too critical a moment, not a tactical moment, but a strategic moment,” for Israel to stay silent.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine as “a serious violation of the international order.” However, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, while offering to mediate in the crisis, speaking to both Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, and sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine, has been careful to not directly criticize or even name Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Putin, Sharansky elaborated, “is seeking to change the entire post-World War II order in which your stronger neighbor cannot take away your freedom. To challenge the entire free world.

“He believes that he is the only one in the world ready to use force, and that he will restore historic Russian dominance.”

The only thing that can stop him, said Sharansky, “is the absolute solidarity of the free world.”

Prisoner of Zion Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky is escorted by US Ambassador Richard Burt after Sharansky crossed the border at Glienicker Bridge on Feb. 11, 1986 at the start of an East-West spy and prisoner exchange in Berlin. (AP Photo/Files)

He asked, furthermore, how long Israel believes it can continue not to take a side. “When the UN votes for sanctions on Russia, are we not going to back that?” he wondered. “Are we going to be sanctions breakers?”

“Those Israelis who disagree with me are not cowards,” Sharansky reiterated. “There are genuine considerations of realpolitik. Israel has very serious arguments about why it needs to be careful. I hope it takes a clear position in spite of that.”

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