Ukraine’s envoy blasts Israeli ‘summons’ as ties deteriorate

Amid rising tensions, Yevgen Korniychuk expresses anger over barriers for citizens trying to enter Israel, disappointment over recent UN vote

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

File: Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
File: Ukraine's ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

Ukraine’s envoy to Israel on Tuesday condemned the country’s restrictions on the entry of Ukrainians into the country during a meeting at the Foreign Ministry. The officials from both countries met amid rising tensions between the countries surrounding the war in Europe.

Kyiv’s Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk responded to the Foreign Ministry saying he had been “summoned” with the angry retort that “They can say whatever they want.”

In a Facebook post after the meeting with senior Israeli diplomats, Korniychuk said he “forwarded the indignation of the Ukrainian side regarding the entrenched practice of unjustifiably denying Ukrainian citizens entry to the territory of Israel.”

The envoy added that Kyiv considers the obstacles to entry “an unfriendly step.”

Senior Ukrainian officials have been vocal about Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s order for a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees who were allowed to enter the country, a ruling overturned in July by the High Court. But Ukrainians are still being turned away at the airport in Israel.

“When the conflict started, many European countries canceled all travel restrictions for Ukrainian refugees and helped them, etcetera. Israel did the opposite. Israel breached the agreement and imposed visa restrictions on our entry into the country,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in October.

Under existing regulations, Ukrainians do not need a visa for a visit of up to three months in Israel.

Jewish immigrants fleeing from war zones in Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office, at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Korniychuk also expressed disappointment with Israel’s abstention during Monday’s UN vote on Russian reparations payments to Ukraine.

Simona Halperin, Head of the Euro-Asia Division, and Amir Weissbrod, the ministry’s UN and International Organizations Divison chief, focused on Ukraine’s vote in favor of advancing an anti-Israel resolution at the UN on Friday.

The UN Fourth Committee approved a resolution to request the International Court of Justice to “urgently” weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli “annexation.”

Both Ukraine and Russia voted in favor. Israel’s abstention on the reparations vote was seen as a response to that.

“It was made clear to the ambassador that [the Ukrainian vote] does not reflect relations between friendly states, who share values, especially in light of Israel’s support for Ukraine in a range of important UN resolutions and in wide humanitarian relief.” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

The Israelis also expressed their hope that Kyiv would change its position when the resolution is considered by the General Assembly in December.

Summons, reprimand or meeting?

Both sides insisted the conversation at the Foreign Ministry was not a reprimand of any kind, despite reports to the contrary.

“We will give our position. He will give his position,” deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Zilberman told The Times of Israel ahead of the meeting.

“It’s a regular diplomatic meeting,” he added.

Earlier Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said that Korniychuk was summoned, but would not expand on the conversation. The Ynet news site reported that Ambassador Korniychuk was called in for a reprimand over the vote.

Firefighters work after a drone hit on buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna)

Israel’s ambassador to Kyiv Michael Brodsky has said that “supporting anti-Israeli initiatives in the UN doesn’t help to build trust” between the countries. An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also called the vote a “grave mistake.”

Korniychuk denied that the meeting had anything to do with the vote, telling The Times of Israel that he had been requesting a meeting for the last 10 days to discuss the denial of entry permits for Ukrainian citizens, among other issues, but that the Foreign Ministry had been avoiding his request.

Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky (left) speaks with Times of Israel diplomatic correspondent Lazar Berman at his office in Kyiv, on February 15, 2022. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

“That’s why I am being called,” he said. “I am not being summoned.”

Responding to the Foreign Ministry’s statement that he had been summoned, Korniychuk said, “They can say whatever they want.”

The Ukrainian diplomat said he would express Kyiv’s disappointment “at the position of Israel not to give us any defensive weapons.”

Ukraine has repeatedly requested military aid and equipment from Israel to fight off Russia’s assault on the country since late February. While providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Israel has maintained a strict policy of not providing defense aid, including systems that could help it intercept Russian missile and drone attacks.

The UN General Assembly Fourth Committee votes on measures addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at UN headquarters in New York on Friday, November 11, 2022. (AP/Jeenah Moon)

Korniychuk indicated that Kyiv would not change its voting stance at the UN so long as Jerusalem withholds weapons sales.

“Our position on the Palestinian resolutions has not been changed since 1949,” said Korniychuk. “We expect that Israel should change its position on selling Ukraine defensive weapons, but Israel decided to play.”

“Why should we change if they are not willing to negotiate?”

Korniychuk also said that Monday’s phone call between Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikovand Defense Minister Benny Gantz didn’t bring the sides closer together.

“There was no progress whatsoever,” he said.

Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu is being sworn in Tuesday along with the rest of the 25th Knesset. He has yet to form a government, but is expected to do so in the coming weeks and replace Yair Lapid as prime minister.

It is unclear if he will change Israel’s position on Ukraine. The Kremlin spokesman struck a hopeful tone on Monday about the future of Russia-Israel ties under Netanyahu, who has had good relations with Russian President Valdimir Putin.

While campaigning as opposition leader, Netanyahu commended the current government’s “prudent” position on the war. However, he did say before the elections that he would “look into” the question of supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine.

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