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Will Israel recognize the Holodomor as genocide?

Expert: “There are many similarities in the fates of the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples and our two states”
13 February, 2018 - 10:04
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Recently, member of the Israeli Knesset Akram Hasson submitted for consideration by the chamber a bill proposing to recognize the Holodomor of 1932-33 as genocide, and to proclaim December 6 as the official commemoration day for Holodomor victims. The explanatory notes to the bill state that the Holodomor was planned by “the Soviet authorities in order to strike a blow against the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian national identity,” the DW writes.

NEWSru.co.il writes that the idea of submitting the bill for consideration occurred to Hasson after he had made a visit to Ukraine and, in particular, visited the Holodomor Museum, which made a great impression on him.

A request to recognize the Holodomor as an act of genocide was communicated to the Israeli side back in September 2016 by a group of Ukrainian public figures.

Yurii SHCHERBAK, diplomat and journalist:

“They are now able to talk about it and have put the bill on the agenda, which is already a step forward and should be welcomed. But I think that they will not pass it, because their position is clear: the Holocaust of the Jewish people was the only event of that magnitude, and the Holodomor was, of course, a crime, but not genocide. And I have great doubts that this position has changed, but I would be very happy if it has. Moreover, Israel is under the great influence of Russia which will not allow them to recognize the Holodomor as genocide.

“The fact that the Knesset still has not recognized the Holodomor as genocide is due to them having such an ideology of concentrating on their people’s particular issues. An Israeli foreign minister explained once that their state was a regional rather than a global power, therefore they were only concerned with Jewish problems. For example, according to him, if Jews are oppressed somewhere, Israel will fight this, provide help, but it will try not to interfere otherwise. In addition, there are many delicate moments interwoven here, like the fact that there were many Jews serving in the NKVD who played their part in the Holodomor policy.

“During my time in Israel, I published an article on the Holodomor in a local newspaper, which listed many facts. This was, I think, the first publication on this topic. I found materials about the famine’s impact in Jewish districts of Ukraine. Interestingly, Jews suffered from the Holodomor as well. But of course, one publication was unlikely to solve anything, although it was welcomed quite warmly in Israel.”

Why is it so important to us that the Israeli government recognize the Holodomor as genocide, after all, and why has this issue been delayed for so long?

“We have a very positive attitude towards the Jewish state, towards Israel. We feel great sympathy for the suffering and tragedy of the Jewish people. And that is the right thing to do. There are many similarities in the fates of the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples and our two states. The Jewish state emerged despite the enormous resistance of the Arab countries in the Middle East and has asserted itself through unceasing wars. There are certain analogies in our historical fates. Therefore, it would be important for us to see them feeling Ukrainian pain as well. Moreover, grandfathers and great-grandfathers of a large number of living Ukrainian Israelis saw the Holodomor, and also suffered to a certain extent. Although, since most Jews lived in cities, they were less affected by it.

“Of course, we have every right to expect that they will not be indifferent to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, which their fathers and grandfathers also experienced, and at least will be able to express their compassion.”

What steps should Ukraine and our embassy in Israel take in order to change the Israeli public opinion on this issue?

“The embassy is not the only institution with a role here. I am convinced and aware that our embassy is conducting appropriate outreach and advocacy work and trying to influence decisions of the Knesset. But I think that we need to pay more attention to the problems that exist between us, to expand our cooperation. Still, Israel depends heavily on Russia, on its decisions to supply or not modern weapons to hostile regimes, in particular, Iran and Hamas, which have set themselves the goal of destroying Israel. Therefore, they are forced to approach Vladimir Putin as supplicants and ask him not to take some steps, and Russia responds, as it has done everywhere and with everyone, with its characteristic haughty imperialist behavior. On the one hand, sometimes it promises something, and on the other hand, if modern systems, especially very effective anti-aircraft missile systems are delivered, Israel will not be able to respond adequately to terrorist attacks. After all, it has to deal with constant barrages of primitive homemade rockets hitting its territory. Therefore, this is a very serious matter. The role of Russia is enormous in the region since it has taken upon itself to act on the side of the Shiite Muslim countries and has been engaged in hostilities in Syria, which has caused enormous rage among other Muslims. But that mess of contradictions, hatred and blood, which Syria is now, is also an intersection of interests of Russia, Israel, and Turkey. We must understand that they are heavily dependent on Russia’s behavior.

“I think the time is on our side as we are working to have Israel recognize the Holodomor as genocide. I am confident of this, but I have great doubts about it happening right now. But history is such a mole that slowly digs its burrows, in the end the truth comes to surface.”


Josef ZISSELS, a Soviet-era dissident, co-chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine:

“I am very glad that this bill has been introduced. But it seems to me that it has come too early, because we need to prepare public opinion, to publicize this story through the Israeli press. I do not know if the embassy is doing enough to introduce the Israeli society to the Holodomor problem. I think they would be able to perceive it if they saw it explained correctly and in a measured manner in various languages: English, Russian, Hebrew.

“The odds of the bill passing are low at the moment. It can be ‘killed’ as early as the committee stage, although I will be glad if it passes anyway.

“But the main thing is to inform the Israeli population about what the Holodomor was. This requires a systematic effort which our friends in Israel also have to join. There is a large community called Israel Supports Ukraine there that arose during the Maidan, and there are people in the Knesset who are sympathetic to us, but that is not enough. We need a high level of activity in Hebrew-language media, on the Internet, on TV. After that, the prepared audience would take well to this law.”

 Why has Israel still not recognized the Holodomor as genocide?

“Only 24 out of 200 countries have recognized the Holodomor as a genocide. Israel has its own headache, I mean the Holocaust. It is very difficult to overcome the barrier when you have always existed in your tragedy and cultivated the memory of it, to overcome it and feel compassion for another people. But this is possible. We have seen it in other countries, but those countries did not experience the Holocaust. This is a process that has started and, I think, will reach its logical conclusion, but it will not be soon.”

P.S. Den/The Day’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna wrote on Facebook: “If the Knesset will be able to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, Ukraine will have to recognize Israel as a strategic partner.” If the Knesset will still miss the opportunity and fail to pass the law on the recognition of the Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people in the near future, we will hope that the next generation of politicians will be able to not just put this issue on the agenda, but also implement it.

By Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day