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Should we send weapons to Ukraine, and to Israel?

SCENARIO / MODERN TIMES here tries out an imaginary scenario to compare two irreconcilable conflicts. It is up to the reader to make up their own mind as to what this might mean.


Ukraine is not Israel, but let's do a thought experiment. These countries have both been divided by an irreconcilable conflict. While Western Ukraine has had strong ties to the West, Eastern Ukraine has had ties to Russia, and while Israel has had Western ties, Palestine has had Arab ones. Giving arms to Ukraine is problematic. The arguments against such arms support are overwhelming. Let us here address only one aspect.

Ukraine is as divided as Israel-Palestine.

Analyzing Ukraine, let's imagine here a scenario about 'Israel', to make the Ukrainian case more clear.

The scenario

A new right-wing government decided to ban the Palestinians from speaking Arabic in official Palestinian contexts. It gave rise to a Palestinian uprising. Israel then deployed the army, but many in the army were not loyal. Then heavily armed Israeli right-wing extremists entered. Nearly 14 were killed in military battles. 000–3000 Palestinian civilians lost their lives. The bombing of Palestine continued for eight years, while 4000 million Palestinians fled to other Arab countries. In Tel Aviv, the president stated that if the Palestinians feel like Arabs, they might as well leave Israel and "move home."

In 2019, a completely new Israeli leader, a comedian, had won the election with 73 percent of the vote. The people supported his program for peace talks with the Palestinians. But on the same day he became president, the far-right leader stated that the president would be hanged from a tree on the main street of Tel Aviv if he stuck to his peace program. What happened now is unclear. The president continued the war against the Palestinians, and he now came to run the politics of the far-right. The far-right candidate had only received the support of 1-2 percent in the election.

The Arab leaders had watched with unease what happened after the far-right takeover in 2014. Four in the new government, including the defense minister, belonged to the far-right despite not having received many votes in the election. After talks with the respective leaders of France and Germany in 2014–15, an Israeli-Arab agreement was reached on relative autonomy for the Palestinian area, which everyone said they could live with. The agreement was internationally recognized and confirmed by the UN Security Council. Later, however, the then Israeli president said that he had signed the agreement to buy himself time, to be able to build up the Israeli military, to crush all Palestinian resistance. It turned out that Israel had signed an agreement it never intended to follow.

On the Arab side, several leaders were irritated. They said that if Israel would not follow the agreement they themselves have signed, which would give the Palestinians autonomy, and if the UN would not follow up the agreement they have confirmed – then they will ensure independence for the Palestinians. In defense of the Palestinians in eastern Israel, the Arab countries carried out a military intervention to ensure the survival of the Palestinian territories.

This was described in Israel and in the West as Arab imperialism, an aggressive war. The Israeli president spoke to the West, in front of one parliamentary assembly after another, to get weapons to defeat the Arabs. "We must give Israel weapons," said the West. "We are the West's spearhead in the fight against the uncivilized," said one in Israel. "We are fighting the West's war without the Western countries needing to sacrifice blood," said the country's defense minister. "We sacrifice our blood, so they have to pay for the weapons," he said.

About ethnic cleansing

The question we face today is whether this is morally acceptable.
One can draw the parallel between Israel and Ukraine much further, and actually the Ukrainian case is in several respects sadder than the Israeli one. The chief of defense in Ukraine now allows himself to be photographed in front of a portrait of Stepán Bandera, whose people collaborated with Nazi Germany and were responsible for the murder of more than a hundred thousand Jews, Poles and Russians in the 1940s. His prime minister, Jaroslav Stetsko, said he would "introduce the German methods of exterminating Jewry in Ukraine." The leader of the far-right Dmytro Yarosh has made Bandera's flag his own – he became an adviser to Ukraine's chief of staff in 2015.

Far-right groups have dominated in Galicja, the area around Lviv, where Waffen SS Galicja is still celebrated. In this western Ukraine Ukrainian is spoken (8 million). In eastern and southern Ukraine (19 million) most people speak Russian, while in central Ukraine (12 million) a "mix" of Russian and Ukrainian, surzjyk, is spoken. There are also several minorities, but Russian can hardly be considered a minority language.

Russian is hardly a minority language.

In the 2010 presidential election, the Western-backed Yulia Tymoshenko won in the west and partly also in central Ukraine, while the more Russian-friendly Viktor Yanukovych won in the Russian-speaking east and south and he won the election as a result of the large crowd in the east. We have seen the same division of Ukraine in several elections. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, the far-right Svoboda party had 30-40 percent around Lviv, while it got 1 percent in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbass, where Yanukovych had over 80 percent. Ukraine is as divided as Israel-Palestine.

It was like demanding a Hebrew Palestine.

Western Ukraine is partly Catholic and speaks Ukrainian, while Orthodox Eastern Ukraine is industrialized and speaks Russian. In Soviet times, this did not matter. After 1991, Ukraine could still live with a divided country. But when the far-right took over Kiev from 2014, with four ministers from the far-right Svoboda, they demanded a purely Ukrainian Ukraine. It was like demanding a Hebrew Palestine. It was not possible. The Russian-speaking areas in the east and south rebelled, but were put down by far-right forces.

In August 2021, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advised all those who feel like Russians to go to Russia "for the benefit of their children and grandchildren" (as Israel forced many Palestinians to leave Palestine in 1948). Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the UN in September 2022 that this is what people in these eastern parts of the country have now done, where they almost have to take "the land where their ancestors have lived for centuries with them".

It is not as simple as asking the Russian-speakers in Ukraine to leave the country, and it is no better to do it with guns. But this has been the far-right's policy for eastern Ukraine since 2014. This would completely change the vote numbers in the elections. The Russian-speakers who voted for Yanukovych are no longer in the majority. It can be said that Ukrainian politics after 2014 has revolved around ethnic cleansing.

Since 2014, many have lived well in Kiev as they lived well in Tel Aviv after 1948 – and lived well in Santiago de Chile after the coup d'état in 1973. But don't Nazi symbols, ethnic cleansing and death squads play a role?

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone

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