Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“If you don’t have freedom of thought and action, nothing will grow”

What lessons Ukraine can learn from Israel’s experience of nation-building
18 June, 2018 - 17:59

One could hear a lot of interesting opinions at the recent conference “Israel’s Experience of Nation-Building: Lessons for Ukraine” held in Kyiv by New Europe Center and the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter. In particular, the audience in the Hotel Hyatt’s packed hall could hear from some leading Israeli politicians about the secrets of Israel’s success and, moreover, about how that country, which constantly faces terrorism, manages to remain democratic and provide security for its citizens without violating human rights.

What testifies to a friendly nature of relations between the two states is an exchange of jokes. Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky told the audience that he once heard it said that Odesa is Israel’s northern city. On the other hand, Georgii Logvynskyi, co-chair of the Verkhovna Rada Group for Interparliamentary Contacts with the State of Israel, said that if the EU does not admit Ukraine, the latter must join Israel or, on the contrary, Israel must annex Ukraine.

Opening the conference, New Europe Center director Aliona Hetmanchuk pointed out that Israel’s experience became especially attractive for Ukraine after Russia had begun a war against this country in the spring of 2014. “This may help us not so much to win the war as to carry out reforms,” she emphasized and expressed a hope that “after the conference, not only Israel will be more understandable to Ukraine but Ukraine will also be more interesting and understandable to Israel.”


Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, also spoke of the importance of Israel’s experience for Ukraine. “Israel demonstrates and inspires how to daily defend its territory and people, how to do this successfully and confidently,” she emphasized. In her words, Israel can, as no one else, understand Ukraine which has to live in a state of constant tension and military threat from a hostile neighbor.

Ukraine is facing a lot of challenges that Israel knows, she said, and we hope to be inspired by the ability of Israelis to make effective international diplomatic efforts and to make use of Israel’s experience in the field of education and innovations.

In her words, there are many things Ukraine can learn from Israel which, even though being in unfavorable climatic conditions and a difficult security situation, manages to invest in innovations, find technical solutions, and be one of the Top 10 IT countries, whereas Ukraine is the 40th on this list.


Dan Meridor, President of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Council, Vice Prime Minister of Israel in 2009-13, noted that the goal – to transfer a nation from one place to the land of ancient Israel and to establish a new state in spite of military obstacles and hatred – exceeded the limits of the possible. “We had to receive people of different cultures from various nooks of the globe. We were to knit these people together and create a single nation. We had no other choice: we either succeed or fail. There were different visions of how to do so, and now you can see a more or less united country, and this was done in a democratic way,” he emphasized.

In his words, the judicial branch of power is fully independent in Israel – an example of this is the Supreme Court’s ruling that governmental actions to ensure the security of citizens must not lead to human rights abuse. “We managed to restore confidence in the army and police which find new ways of preventing acts of terror and cyber threats, we managed to boost an economy that encourages entrepreneurship, broadens horizons for people, and promotes innovations, as a result of which we have reached the per capita income of 40,000 dollars,” Meridor said.

In his view, the main lesson of nation-building Ukraine can learn from Israel is as follows: “If you don’t have freedom – freedom of thought and freedom of action – nothing will grow.”

Besides, he pointed out that the main test for Israelis was their attitude to the granting of equal rights to minorities. “A democracy must not have a dictatorship of the majority,” Meridor stressed.


Eliav Belotserkovsky, who has stayed in Ukraine for almost four years, confessed that Ukrainians often ask him about the secret of Israel, about how the country managed to make such headway in difficult conditions. “I began to think over this question and made a certain analysis. We were very happy to create a state in the desert, surrounded by hostile countries. We paid a high price for this. From the very outset of state-formation, we had no other than human resources.”

“All we could do was to invest in people,” he said. “What does it mean in practice? Firstly, it was necessary to create conditions in Israel which would encourage people, including the Jews who came from other countries, to stay behind and work for the state and respond to challenges. It was a difficult task. In particular, establishing an up-to-date infrastructure was a great challenge.”

Another achievement of Israel, the ambassador says, is a high level of health care – even people from the countries that maintain no diplomatic relations with Israel come to receive treatment in that country. “We have compulsory medical insurance, which gives a lot of food for thought,” he said.

Among the successes of Israel, the ambassador goes on, is free and compulsory education at the age of 5 to 18. “Schools apply up-to-date teaching methods, and we emphasize that education is an important part of our life,” he said.

Noting that another important thing for Ukraine is the army, Mr. Belotserkovsky shared the secret of what makes the Israeli armed forces successful. “We have compulsory service, and all those who reached 18 agree to voluntarily risk their lives for the state which, on its part, promises these young people security. They know that if they are wounded, the government will do its best to provide them with the best medical care, and if they are taken prisoner, every effort will be made to free them. In other words, Israel takes care of every citizen,” he emphasized.


“Ukraine has a tremendous human capital. I believe that, after the Revolution of Dignity, it is important to focus on the individual and invest in people. Then Ukraine is sure to achieve success,” Belotserkovsky said. Incidentally, the ambassador made a very appropriate remark about the conference’s name, saying: “Lessons for Ukraine is exactly correct, for it is lessons for both Ukraine and Israel, and we will learn about many things that occurred here.”

On her part, Ms. Klympush-Tsintsadze pointed out that Ukrainians have at last begun to build a political nation. They are rallying to form a state that focuses on man. It would be good if this began to be put into practice as soon as possible. This also means a new quality of medicine, education, and social security, when Ukrainians will not have to look for a better life in other worlds.

Another well-known problem of Ukraine is corruption. Israel seems to be able to give a recipe for fighting this evil. Major General Yaakov Amidror, Chairman of the National Security Council of Israel (2011-13), shared this recipe. “There is corruption in every populated area. It also existed in Israel. But the question is not whether there is corruption but whether the law-enforcement bodies are strong enough to bring corruptionists to justice, and whether the court is independent enough to pass a sentence,” he stressed.


In the opinion of Natalia Popovych, president of the PRP Group in Ukraine, co-organizer of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center, Ukraine ought to learn three lessons from Israel. “It is, above all, the history of Zionism, the history of a people defending its independent existence. Besides, it is the potential of the people who can muster strength to come up with new innovations and further develop the state,” she underlined.

Meanwhile, Yevhen Zakharov, director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, believes that “one of the key areas, where Ukraine can learn from Israel, is attitude to people. The Ukrainian authorities should take more care of the people who are the country’s most valuable asset.”

Logvynskyi spoke in quite an original way on this matter. “No doubt, it would be useful for Ukraine to learn from Israel which has positive experience in IT. But the main thing to invest in is people. Immigrants from Odesa and Kharkiv once built Israel, and now it is time for Ukraine to receive dividends,” he says.

In his words, closer ties between the two countries have formed a system of coordinated relations. “If the EU does not admit us, Ukraine should either join or annex Israel,” Logvynskyi said. He explained his view as follows: “Ukraine has the world’s largest synagogue in Uman and largest Jewish community center in Dnipro, half a million Ukrainians immigrated to Israel and formed a very closely-knit commune there. Therefore, we must draw up a short-term and a long-term strategic plan.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day