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Zelensky requests speech to Knesset, gets offered Zoom chat instead

Ukrainian president sought to drum up support with Israeli lawmakers but was told they are going on recess, and the building is scheduled for renovations

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a video address posted to Facebook, on March 4, 2022. (Screenshot)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in a video address posted to Facebook, on March 4, 2022. (Screenshot)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sought to give an address to the Knesset to drum up support for Ukraine’s war effort, but was offered a smaller discussion with fewer lawmakers, according to Wednesday reports.

The Ukrainians were disappointed with the offer and did not accept it, the reports said.

Zelensky wanted to deliver an address via remote video to the Knesset’s plenum to present Ukraine’s plight during the Russian invasion, the Walla and Ynet news sites reported.

Zelensky has given similar speeches to officials and lawmakers in the United Kingdom, European Union and Canada.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, filed a request for the speech with Knesset speaker Mickey Levy, who said the matter was complicated, since the Knesset is beginning its recess on Thursday, so a special meeting would have to be called.

Levy said convening the Knesset would not be possible, and suggested to Korniychuk that Zelensky hold a smaller Zoom discussion with some Knesset members, but not the full plenum, Walla reported, citing a senior official.

Levy’s office contacted the Foreign Ministry to check whether there were any diplomatic issues regarding a potential call with Zelensky, and the ministry said it had no objections, the report said.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy seated in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Ukrainians were not interested in Levy’s suggestion for a Zoom talk, seeing the offer as disrespectful. They were hoping Zelensky could speak on a bigger platform and were disappointed with the offer, the report said.

Some lawmakers supported hosting a speech from Zelensky.

Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar sent a letter to Levy requesting the full plenum convene for Zelensky, or that he be given a call with Israel’s foreign and defense committees.

Labor lawmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana said, “Ready at any time and any hour to welcome and hear Zelensky in the Knesset.”

Levy said in response that the Knesset would be “honored” to have an address from Zelensky, but that the Knesset is going on recess on Thursday, and the building is scheduled for renovations, so Zelensky was invited “for a remote speech with Knesset members in an official video call.”

Relations between Israel and Ukraine have been tense since Russia launched its invasion, as Jerusalem attempts to walk a tightrope between Kyiv and Moscow, and Ukraine has sought more support.

Israel has avoided harshly criticizing Russia, or supporting Ukraine too strongly, because of Russia’s presence in Syria. Israel carries out airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, with Russia’s understanding, to prevent Iran-backed forces from gaining a foothold on Israel’s northern border.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 6, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has tried to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow, since Israel is in a unique position, with good relations with both sides of the war, and with Western countries.

Ukrainian officials have thanked Israel for its mediation attempts as well as for sending humanitarian aid to civilians fleeing the country, but Zelensky also criticized Bennett last week, saying he felt the premier was not “wrapped in our flag,” a reference to a photo showing Israeli men wrapped in Ukrainian flags at the Western Wall, alongside the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel.

While Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bennett has not done so. Israel declined a US request to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion last month; it did support the subsequent General Assembly resolution to do so.

Kyiv’s ambassador to Israel has repeatedly lamented Israel’s refusal to send military protective gear for Ukrainian troops, let alone weaponry.

Israel sent “a stiff message” to Ukraine in the past day, protesting that it was being criticized by Kyiv even as it tries to mediate a deal, and saying that this situation was intolerable, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday.

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