To help ensure another year of US’ support, to frustrate Russian President Vladimir Putin and to stand for democracy and with a fellow democracy, it’s important thatPresident Volodymyr Zelensky visits Israel at the earliest possible opportunity.
Shortly after Oct. 7, when Hamas savagely massacred 1,400 Israelis and took hundreds more to Gaza as hostages, President Zelensky called on world leaders to visit Israel and demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish state. Zelensky offered to visit personally, but was initially rebuffed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hewas then reported to be planning a visit as early as thispast week, but cancelled after news leaked.
If there is still hope of US Congress supporting aid to Ukraine this year, it is critical the visit happens before Americans celebrate Thanksgiving later this month.
Modern Ukraine is a case study in overcoming historical divisions and unifying into a liberal democratic society, where Jews are an integral and celebrated minority. But when President Zelensky appealed to Israel for approval to transfer US defensive systems developed jointly with Israel, many Israelis balked – and not just because of an exaggerated concern about Russia's role in Syria.
Let's be candid.
While Putin's claim to be fighting against Nazis in Ukraine is blatantly unfounded, for many Jews and Israelis – even those advocating for Ukraine – the defining Ukrainian-Jewish narrative centers on centuries of pogroms, discrimination, and persecution.
As long as we’re being candid, since January 2023, under Republican control, the US House of Representatives has grown increasingly skeptical about further assistance to Ukraine. In some measure, this relates to a worldview in which Putin’s authoritarian, reactionary Russia appeals to the “Make America Great Again” crowd. More immediately, Republicans emulate Donald Trump’s distrust in the trans-Atlantic alliance and blame Ukraine for being the victim of Trump’s attempted extortion.
As with Charles Lindbergh nine decades before them, “America First” advocates also oppose any foreign assistance. But they’ve usually made an exception for aid to Israel, especially to satisfy their evangelical base.
Even before the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, many House Republicans opposed the next block of US assistance to Ukraine. Since the attack, for many Americans and Members of Congress, Israel’s new crisis has overshadowed concern for Ukraine. Putin is obviously asrelieved to have Ukraine sidelined on Capitol Hill as he is to see US President Joe Biden facing a new conflagration in the Middle East. But Israel’s emergency has also opened momentum for a new overseas assistance package, which could include Israel and Ukraine, along with Taiwan and humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The challenge will be convincing House Republicans, beginning with the new Speaker a.k.a. “MAGA Mike” – to send Ukraine four-times the amount being allocated for Israel.
As European governments increasingly question Israel’s anti-Hamas operations in Gaza, a visit by President Zelensky will remind the world – and Brussels – that Israel is as much an embattled democracy as Ukraine is, and that Israel’s and Ukraine’s fights are Europe’s and the West’s. By uniting Ukraine and Israel rather than setting one US ally against the other, these optics can also smash through Putin’s neatly wrapped early Christmas gift. This will enhance the standing and security of Israel, Ukraine, and the Western alliance of democracies.
Most importantly for Ukraine, Zelensky’s dramatic show of solidarity with Israel – when Israeli leaders themselves have kept Ukraine’s struggle at arm’s length – will telegraph to House Republicans and their supporters, as well as American Jews, that Ukraine is on their side and the fates of Ukraine and Israel are both worthy causes –that Ukraine 2023 is setting the pace and supporting Ukraine is an existential imperative for us all.
President Zelensky has captivated Western audiences because, as Americans like to say, he puts his money where his mouth is. Having called on other leaders to visit Israel, he can now add deeds to his words. As much as another fundraising visit to Washington would feel good, President Zelensky wouldn’t return to Kyiv with half the political or financial capital, as from a visit to Jerusalem.
Being the hero of Western democracy accrues many benefits, but it also requires continuous gestures and sacrifice to maintain and redouble that august title. A Presidential visit to Israel is the perfect next step in this trajectory, and the West and Israel need it at least as much as Ukraine does.
Shai Franklin, a partner with Gotham Government Relations, has represented clients from a variety of countries, including Ukraine.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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