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I'm trying to understand this news

Israel turned down Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky's request to make a solidarity visit to the country in the wake of Hamas' attack, telling him that the "time is not right," the Israeli news portal Ynet reported on Oct. 16, citing undisclosed sources.

What is the idea behind refusing a visit? What does Israel gain from it?

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    see also politics.stackexchange.com/questions/73707/… Not really answerable without official explanations. Oct 17, 2023 at 21:15
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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to speculate what the answer could be. If you have an answer and have the sources to back up its correctness, then please post it as an answer. If you can't prove that your guess is correct, then it doesn't belong here.
    – Philipp
    Oct 18, 2023 at 13:02

5 Answers 5

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It's hard to see what Israel has to gain from the visit, and Israel's public support for Ukraine seems to have been modest from the outset.

One dimension of the problem is that Israel has a good relationship with Putin's Russia, and in recent years there has been a degree of cooperation in pacifying and solidifying the Middle East region.

Syria in particular was liquefied by the West in a disastrous and incoherent campaign against Assad, in which the West ended up backing all sides in the fighting at various times. This is on Israel's doorstep.

Western sanctions against Russia which have ensued from the Ukraine war, are also inconvenient for Israel because it has somewhat driven its friend Russia, into the arms of Israel's foe Iran.

Another dimension is that it's not easy to fathom the basis for the "solidarity" between Israel and Ukraine. The status of Ukraine in their conflict against Russia arguably bears more in common with Palestine against Israel, than with Israel against Palestine.

Both Russia and Israel use a rationale of historic possession (ancient, in Israel's case), and legitimate contemporary interests, as a justification for annexation of territory. The only real difference is that Russia is absorbing the Ukrainian people, whereas Israel largely does not want to absorb the Palestinians, but to exile them instead.

Certainly, the matter is confused enough that it does Israel no good to encourage further examination and drawing of parallels.

A third dimension is that Ukraine potentially competes with Israel for attention, sympathy, and aid money from the West—especially in the eyes of the Jewish diaspora, given that Zelensky is Jewish, although (unlike Israel) his regime doesn't claim to be Jewish in character.

A fourth dimension is that Israel is aided by the influx of refugees from Ukraine and would wish them to settle there permanently, and so it does not necessarily have an interest in the resolution of the Ukraine war being in Ukraine's favour, if that leads to an outflow of population again.

And a final dimension is that Russia's successful conquest of Ukraine may set a useful precedent for Israel's own annexations of Palestine—either in terms of the status quo borders, or the entire desired territory.

All this comes to a total that Israel would prefer not to be compared to Ukraine or be seen to be in an alliance with Ukraine.

At best, they may wish Zelensky well, but prefer not to be bound into a collective (which will highlight contradictions, and create political and diplomatic rigidities that Israel may not want), but there's also grounds to think Israel may have ambiguous views about which way they really want the Ukraine war to go.

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    +1 the only answer that points out Israel isn't exactly opposed to the idea of unilaterally annexing territory.
    – Eugene
    Oct 18, 2023 at 16:13
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    Third paragraph is laughably wrong (or you'd have to agree that ISIS was part of "the West").
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2023 at 18:27
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    @T.E.D., even I struggle to make sense of all the confused details, but I have the impression that the West contributed in one way or another to every armed militia in Syria. At any rate, nobody would deny that the West opposed Assad specifically, and made a decisive contribution to the chaos.
    – Steve
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:25
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    @Steve - Try this timeline. The chaos happened first, and its tough to blame it on anyone other than Asssad. It was about 3 years until ISIS arose, which turned it into a 3+ way Civil War, and Assad lasted that long largely due to the efforts of Lebanese Hezbollah (so basically Iran). Some western nations then got involved, but when you've got a 3-way Civil war, and terrorists are credibly declaring themselves whole country in 1/3 of your territory, the country is already "liquified" and the "chaos" has already occurred.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:39
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    IMHO the main problem people have with understanding the Syrian Civil War is insisting on looking at it with Cold-war-style East/West blinders on. If you look at it from the POV of the Syrians involved, granting them their own political agency in what they did, it makes much more sense (and is far more tragic).
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 18, 2023 at 20:46
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The sole (and dubious) benefit of accepting Zelenskyy's visit would be to gain a very slight increase in Ukraine's support, which isn't worth much considering Ukraine is itself a war-devastated country that wasn't exactly rich and resourceful even before 2022.

The costs would be to alienate Russia (and Putin), who is at least friendly with some of Israel's foes (Syria, Iran) and has forces in neighboring Syria.

Clearly the costs exceed the (dubious) benefit.

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    Well, they'd also get the kudos of a visit from the (current) darling of the Western powers.
    – Valorum
    Oct 18, 2023 at 9:45
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    @Valorum: I don't really see any Western leader/government/public thinking, "Wow Israel let Zelenskyy visit them. Now we like Israel a little more or will support Israel a little more." I think the effect of a Zelenskyy visit on Western views of Israel would be 0.
    – user103496
    Oct 18, 2023 at 9:50
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    It's also worth mentioning that whenever Zelenskyy went to any country, all he did was demand more weapons and more money. This is certainly not in Israel's best interests right now.
    – vsz
    Oct 19, 2023 at 5:00
  • At the other hand, not doing so alienates a number of people who support Ukraine in this conflict.
    – user626528
    Oct 19, 2023 at 22:31
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Question:

Why did Israel refuse Zelensky's visit? (2023)

While Israel is part of the coalition which supports Ukraine, they have been careful about it.

  • Israel doesn't have much to gain by promoting an equivalency with Ukraine now. The world's spotlight is on Israel and for now I think Israel has plans to use that spotlight.

  • Israel doesn't want to openly provoke Russia

  • Important Israeli allies in the U.S. don't support Ukraine. Trump's MAGA movement has been very critical of U.S. aid to Ukraine and have no such concerns with U.S. aid to Israel. There just isn't enough benefit in it for Israel to justify alienating Republican allies.

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(since apparently it is now better to speculate in answers than comments ;-)

First, and though this Q is at no risk of being closed for it, in the absence of official statements... educated(?) guesses and opinions will prevail. That's why I desisted from answering at first. But since no one sees this as close-worthy...

TLDR - there's very little upside to Israel, much downside.

Yes, they can get a show of solidarity from a popular-in-West figure. Who is Jewish as well. And...?

As has been asked about in the past, Israel is walking a tightrope with regards to Russia.

  • It doesn't want ramped-up Russian SAMs in Syria. Or Iran. A cranky Russia can be extremely inconvenient for Israel.

  • There is a large Russian Jewish diaspora in Israel.

Add to it new developments:

  • Israel wants weapons. Ukraine doesn't have any to give.

  • Iran is chomping at the bit right now, at least on the possibility of attacking via Lebanese Hizbullah. They have their own reasons to stay put and have been warned off, by Israel and the US. A pissed off Russia - the same Russia that Iran sell Shaheds to - that "had their back"? Might embolden them. Russian also has a lot of influence in Syria. Israel's first priority at this time is to avoid a regional spread of the Hamas war.

For Ukraine, the reverse is true.
  • An active Iran that attacks Israel and gets bombed in return? Less Shaheds and sundry to spare for Russia.

  • The tantalizing possibility of finally getting Israeli weapon sales and technology, if Israel becomes strongly anti-Russia because Russia buddied up with Iran against Israel.

  • An aggrieved-by-Russia Israel would be a godsend to Ukraine in the US Congress, burnishing up anti-Russia and pro-Ukraine support from red-blooded Republicans that back Israel unconditionally. A group with probably a strong intersection with the Ukraine-skeptic congress critters. To Israel, it holds the reverse risk, that Ukraine-skeptics may push Israel-skepticism to the America-first crowd.

Make no mistake, Zelensky probably is well aware of the upsides for Ukraine. And Israel, with the coy, but dismissive, the time is not right, seems also well aware that there are calculations beyond mere solidarity.

p.s. (a bit of a stretch) Zelensky might be underestimating some potential risks as well. If, as seems increasingly likely, Israel, both through military necessity (civ-embedded Hamas using human shields) and through bloody-mindedness (cough, the blockade, cough), Israel manages to turn revulsion at Hamas atrocities to revulsion at Palestinian civilian suffering, being seen as too closely allied with Israel might have come back to bite him.

In Europe - Melenchon's La France Insoumise already refuses to condemn Hamas more than Israel. This type of sentiment could spread and tarnish Ukraine if they were in the same basket. Even truer in the Global South, where Ukraine skepticism is rife and Palestinian support traditionally high.

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    "Israel wants weapons. Ukraine doesn't have any to give." It's more than that. They are competing for US stocks. In Jan the US sent some of their stocks from Israel to Ukraine. So, even leaving aside any possible resentment over that, the less visibility Ukraine has right now, the better for Israel's armory. Oct 18, 2023 at 19:31
  • @Fizz Very true, but not that relevant to this question. This competition will happen with or without a Zelensky visit. More relevant to politics.stackexchange.com/questions/81771/…. My guess is that the primary points of competition will be high-precision guided artillery rounds and air defense assets (Iron Dome may be getting stretched ammo-wise by now). Not much of either left in discretionary US arsenals. Oct 18, 2023 at 19:36
  • IDK a lot about Melenchon, but I don't understand the last para. AFAICT his party supports negotiations with Russia, which is hardly an unconditional endorsement of Ukraine. Oct 18, 2023 at 19:40
  • Oh, I meant that Melenchon - an a..hole if there ever was one - is already pushing the Israel-is-just-as-bad-as-Hamas. If Israel gets really bad press from Palestinian suffering, being too closely associated with them risks Ukraine being tarred with the same brush. Europe's relations w Israel re. Palestinians are always somewhat tense. Oct 18, 2023 at 19:42
  • Yeah, I know of the recent spats in NUPES over this war in Israel. My point is that they were nearly as fractured over Ukraine, with PS and Greens clearly on the side of Ukraine, while LFI/Melenchon being much more ambivalent (and the Communists outright hostile to Ukraine). Oct 18, 2023 at 19:49
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While many of the other answers cover the main reasons for refusing the visit, they omit one key reason which informs all of Israel's policy on Ukraine: the 20th century Ukrainian history of violent antisemitism.

While Ukraine today is clearly not antisemitic (Zelensky is Jewish), in the 19th and early 20th centuries the region was one of the world's most violent and devastating towards Jews, including progroms and mass killings during World War II. My own ancestral village was completely wiped out by Ukrainian Cossacks except for my great-great-grandmother (who was away).

A large population of Israel's current citizens are the children of European refugees who fled Ukraine, most of whom are unable to believe that the country has changed. This makes any Israeli support for Ukraine a contentious issue in Israeli politics, especially among the older European-descended Jews who are Netanyahu's primary supporters.

(my credentials: I'm the descendant of Ukrainian Jews, and I have relatives in Israel)

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    Living in Israel, I've never seen any display of animosity towards modern Ukraine. (Jews are good at remembering history while not blaming the descendants of their persecutors - there are too many). However, Jews often do denounce Ukraine's glorification of people like Bohdan Khmelnitsky who led a Cossack army that anyhillated scores of Jewish communities almost 400 years ago (horrors still commemorated by many Jewish communities). As well as Putin's glorification of historical Russia - Tsarist and Communist, where Jews didn't have a single good day - unlike any other place in the diaspora.
    – Jacob3
    Oct 19, 2023 at 22:17

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