UKRAINE, RUSSIA AND ISRAEL

TIMES OF ISRAEL: Meet the Jewish activists who want Israel to support Ukraine against Russia

Few Israelis are aware of the intense information battle being fought between Moscow and Kyiv over anti-Semitism and Israel. Some believe the Jewish state is on the wrong side

Simona Weinglass and Sam Sokol
Saturday, 25 April 2020 01:27

On February 3, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, issued an unusual apology. Two weeks prior, Israel had hosted the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, a gathering of world leaders to remember the Holocaust and combat anti-Semitism. At the event, Yad Vashem had screened several videos that it said it now regretted showing. These videos contained “inaccuracies,” Yad Vashem said in a statement, and a “partial presentation of facts” that created an “unbalanced impression.”

In the weeks prior to its apology, these videos and other aspects of the Holocaust Forum had been severely criticized by historians and Holocaust survivors for allegedly being biased in a way that echoed Russian narratives about the Soviet role in World War II. The videos were panned for failing to mention Joseph Stalin’s deal with Adolf Hitler in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, or the USSR’s occupation of parts of Poland.

Victor Vertsner, a Ukrainian-born Israeli who moderates the Facebook group “Israel Supports Ukraine,” told The Times of Israel that the World Holocaust Forum and Yad Vashem’s subsequent apology have been a hot topic in the members-only group in recent months.

“We discussed this a lot in our group. I don’t think Yad Vashem would have created those fake videos without the approval of the Israeli government,” said Vertsner. “The goal was to make Russia happy by politicizing the Holocaust.”

A Russian-language Israeli news website called Cursorinfo.co.il, which is owned by Ukrainian businessman Oleg Vyshniakov, similarly published an article that was highly critical of Yad Vashem.

“The organizers of the Forum were apparently so afraid of disappointing [Russian President] Vladimir Putin that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union a month before the war, was not mentioned at all in the video presentation,” the article said.

In response, one commenter wrote, “the Yad Vashem Museum has long been acting like a cheap prostitute! It’s disgusting!”

Most Israelis, Vertsner told The Times of Israel, probably can’t find Ukraine on a map, and are unaware of the political or cultural differences among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whom they tend to inaccurately lump together under the label “Russians.”

“There are 400,000 citizens of Ukrainian descent in Israel,” he said. “Only 200,000 are from Russia.”

There is a significant cohort of post-Soviet Israelis and Jews, he said, who are both pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western and whose voices are drowned out by the vast money and resources the Russian government reportedly invests in media and social media, especially Russian-language media in Israel. Many of these pro-Ukrainian Jews would like to see the Israeli government move in a pro-Ukrainian direction, for instance by joining the sanctions regime against Russia or by rejecting what they see as pro-Russian narratives about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

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