Difficulties, misunderstandings, prospects: Audit of Ukraine-Israeli relations

Author : Kateryna Zarembo

Source : 112 Ukraine

Relations between Ukraine and Israel could be described as "distant close"
15:17, 29 May 2017

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Relations between Ukraine and Israel could be described as "distant close" ones.

There are a number of links joining the two countries - religious, ethnic factors, histore, and so on. Perhaps, there is no other country in the world, where so many representatives of the political elite would have Ukrainian origin – in Israel, these are the presidents and prime ministers Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Efrayim Katsir, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, the current Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein.

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As a result of several waves of emigration of Ukrainian Jewry after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Israel keep strong people to people contacts.

Ukraine is also the birthplace of the Hasidic movement and pilgrimage followers rabbi Nachman is buried in Uman. In turn, Israel has also been and remains a place of Ukrainian Christians pilgrimage.

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Since 2012, when the two countries had abolished the visa regime, the flow of tourists is growing every year, and the city to which most of flights are carried out from "Boryspil" airport, is Tel Aviv.

And for the past three years, Israel began to be perceived as "transformational model" - a country that has become successful despite the ongoing war.

As you know, Israel from its inception to the present day in a state of permanent armed conflict, but managed to achieve prosperity and ensure its own security.

Israel entered the top 10 countries called under Ukrainian national survey, answering questions, the foreign policy of which country is an example for Ukraine.

But the bilateral agenda has a "reverse side". Including historical. This is the legacy of Jewish pogroms, the Holocaust, with which Ukraine associates in the collective memory of the Israelites.

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In the political sphere, the two countries seek to support each other in the international arena: Ukraine - to counter Russian aggression, Israel - in its confrontation with the Palestinians. This persecution of the own national interests and dependence on the broader geopolitical context do not always allow countries consistently behave as allies and sometimes create mutual distrust and deteriorating relations.

In relations with Israel, usual for Ukraine coordinate system, in which a reference is European integration, does not work. Israel, which is integrated with Ukraine by European Neighborhood Policy carries on EU policies completely different from the Ukrainian ones.

Israeli diplomats explained: "We do not say that Israel is Europe, as we do not want to be in Europe. But we work so as to be no worse than Europe."

Business and investment: untapped potential

The volume of trade in goods and services between the two countries in 2016 amounted to $ 861.7 million.

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The export from Ukraine to Israel significantly exceed imports, and it is the dominant component of agricultural products industry: grain, seeds, and oleaginous fruits, products of the milling industry, sugar and confectionery.

Since Ukraine is negotiating on FTA with Israel.

Kyiv is interested not only in selling Israeli agricultural products, but also in borrowing Israeli technologies, which are the most effective in the world, while the average Israeli farmer produces enough food for 95 people, in Ukraine this figure is six times less - 15.

Regarding investment, this niche of the bilateral ties is almost complete. Israeli investment in Ukraine amounted to $ 50 million, representing 0.1% of total foreign investment in Ukraine. And there are almost no Ukrainian investments to Israel.

Ukrainians are not present in the Israeli market as migrants, because it is extremely difficult to get a legal job in Israel for a foreigner.

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The exceptions are government quotas for certain nationalities and certain specialties. Ukraine completed its diplomatic success that in late 2016 the two states have ratified the agreement on employment of Ukrainian builders quota (20 thousand people).

Silent maintenance

In foreign policy, our relations are much brighter.

Israel is a special partner of Ukraine in the Middle East area. One has only to note that the dynamics of bilateral relations between Ukraine and Israel is higher than with all other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and even some EU member states.

The intensity of bilateral contacts reached its peak in 2016. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein (first 20 years) visited Ukraine, and President Poroshenko met with the Prime Minister and concurrently Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

However, Israel has refrained from publicly condemning Russian aggression, as well as the introduction of sanctions against Russia.

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According to Israeli interlocutors, such steps as condemnation or sanctions against Russia might have some existential consequences for Israel, because Moscow actively supports terrorist groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah.

Russian factor also affects the military-technical cooperation between Ukraine and Israel.

Kyiv has repeatedly expressed interest in purchasing Israeli military equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and communications.

However, the 2014 agreement on the purchase of Israeli UAVs was blocked by Israeli Foreign Ministry, as reported by some media, due to the reluctance to irritate Russia.

Besides, when considering four of the five critical for Ukraine issues for 2014-2016 years at the UN, Israel did not participate in the vote.

Even during the critical vote for the resolution on Ukraine's territorial integrity Ukraine in March 2014 Israeli representative was absent. Israel insisted that the embodiment of the Israeli policy of "neutrality" means "silent support".

The loudest scandal in 25 years

However, sometimes Ukrainian position was similar, neutral. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Kyiv tried not to identify with any of the parties. The reason for this were two opposing "leverages", "special partnership" with Israel on the one hand, and the large Arab market on the other.

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However, the policy of Ukraine concerning the Middle East conflict was affected by the position of the European Union.

As a result, during the discussions in the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Kyiv consistently condems the Israeli settlement policy as such, which contradicts the international law, and Israel violently reacts on it.

This explains the cause of the diplomatic scandal that arose between Ukraine and Israel in late 2016, amid flourishing diplomatic relations and on the eve of the planned visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister in Jerusalem.

Then, after Ukraine’s vote as a part of the UN Security Council for the resolution №2334 on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories, Israel in response canceled a visit of Ukrainian Prime Minister Groisman.

It was assessed as the "biggest scandal in 25 years between Ukraine and Israel." It is a good lesson for understanding Israeli diplomacy and the further development of relations.

Historical Dialogue: From Famine to the Holocaust

The point of intersection of the mutual interests of the two states is the policy of historical memory, and escalation of the bilateral relations can only be compared with the current Polish-Ukrainian dialogue.

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The key claim of Israel to Ukraine is the issue of Ukrainian involvement in the Holocaust.

In the minds of the Israelis, the Holocaust and Ukraine are related.

During World War II, the Nazis had destroyed 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews, that is every fourth (!) victim of the Holocaust, implemented in Europe.

Some steps in this direction have already taken place - during a visit to Jerusalem December 23, 2015President Poroshenko apologized for the involvement of some Ukrainians in the Holocaust.

However, the Ukrainian government policy memory continues to be a constant irritant to relations with Israel.

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One of the first steps of the leadership of Ukraine, which did not find understanding in Israel, was posthumous awarding Roman Shukhevych the title of Hero of Ukraine. Shukhevych was Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) commander and one of the OUN(b) leader (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Banderits) who in 1941-1942 he served in unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, Wehrmacht. Israel took as a slap Ukraine’s adoption of the law "On the legal status and honor the memory of fighters for independence of Ukraine in the XX century" which honors the memory of OUN and UPA, which were involved in the extermination of Jews during Holocaust.

Israel was shocked that the monument in "Babyn Yar" reserve was unveiled to Ukrainian poet Olena Teliha, A member of OUN, the Nazis shot here in Babyn Yar.

One more "stumbling block" in bilateral relations is interpretation of Holodomor - Israel does not agree with the definition of the Holodomor as genocide of Ukrainian people.

People in Israel virtually know nothing about the Holodomor, they do not learn about it in school or even at the History Department of the Israeli universities.

Ukraine does not conduct any activity on spreading information about Holodomor in this bilateral relations; this activity was resumed only in 2016.

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In particular, on the initiative of the honorary consul of Israel in the Western region of Ukraine Oleg Vyshnyakov, Israeli MPs, who arrived in Ukraine for 75th anniversary of the tragedy in Babyn Yar, visited the Memorial to Holodomor victims.

This memorial impressed the deputies, and one member of the delegation, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Nava Boker first time in the history of Israel brought to the agenda of the Knesset an offer to recognize Holodomor as genocide.

Later, the proposal was withdrawn from the agenda because of fears that it would not be supported by enough number of votes. However, this precedent is means that diplomatic and educational activities might achieve substantial convergence.

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