At the beginning of the war, Israel joined the world to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the country treads carefully in its response to Russia. Its government refuses to carry out sanctions on Russia, continuing their economic cooperation. Additionally, Israel did not send weapons and military aid to Ukraine. As a close Western ally, its action drastically deviated from its united stance. However, Israel’s stance shifted significantly following days of hostile diplomatic dialogues.
On May 1, in an interview with an Italian TV, when the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was asked to justify Russia’s claim of “de-Nazification” when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is indeed Jewish. He responded by saying Hitler is also part Jewish.
This sparked outrage in Israel, with its prime minister Naftali Bennett condemning the comment. During the Second World War, Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, led to a genocide of 6 million Jews across occupied Europe.
The issue was worsened when the spokeswoman of the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, claimed Israeli mercenaries were fighting along with the far-right Azov battalion. The mentioned battalion has been highly criticised for its sympathy to fascist ideologies and is targeted as a part of the Russian war claim. The association of Israel with a far-right militant group once again caused anger among Israeli citizens.
Moreover, Russia’s diplomatic effort with the Palestinian community is testing Israel’s limits. Russia has increased communications between Palestinian figures to promote regional stability. A Hamas delegation had recently travelled to Moscow to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Palestinian territories. This action worsened the already stained diplomatic tie between Russia and Israel. Hamas, the organisation controlling Gaza, has launched terrorist attacks across Israel for decades, with missiles to suicide bombers. The tension between Israel and Palestine has been a century-old dispute following the Second World War. Russia’s attempt to communicate with Palestine undisputedly challenges Israel’s legitimacy.
Russia and Israel previously enjoyed stable relations. Compared to Western powers, the country has been friendly to Russia over foreign policies. Israel has a large Russian-speaking population, the third-most-popular language after Hebrew and Arabic. Russia has also acted as the mediator to tensions between Israel and Palestine. Military cooperation in Syria also saw the special relations between the two states.
Currently, the relationship between the two states is in a free fall. The Kremlin continues to pressure Israel and make provocative statements about their historic past. The fallout of this intense exchange could destroy their record of harmony and peace. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already apologised over a phone call with the Israeli PM. However, the incident has already caused irreversible damage to Jewish communities. The Israeli government is now more willing to support the Ukrainian war effort. If the situation continues to deteriorate, it is expected to see Israeli sanctions on the Russian economy.
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