With US President Joe Biden escalating his rhetoric against Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, it’s becoming increasingly precarious for Israel to maintain its quasi-neutrality over the invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered harsh criticism during his address to the Knesset via Zoom, openly wondering why Israel was refraining from going as far as the rest of the West in aiding Ukraine.
Zelensky’s speech, and in particular his repeated references to the Holocaust, was immediately panned by Israeli politicians. See: Zelensky’s Address to Israel Didn’t Go Over Very Well
But the Ukrainian leader’s bitter words for Israel did strike a chord with some in the US Congress, which Zelensky had addressed a week prior, among them Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.)
Kinzinger will likely be familiar to most as one of the more outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump from within the Republican Party. Nor is he shy about laying into perhaps America’s closest ally in the world: Israel.
“Really good questions of Israel,” Kinzinger tweeted in response to Zelensky’s scathing remarks to the Knesset. “Israel’s reaction to Ukraine will have bearing on future aid from the US to Israel. Pay it forward,” he added, suggesting that the annual $6 billion in military aid that Israel receives from the US could be in jeopardy.
Kinzinger’s position didn’t sit well with many Republicans, and he faced a wave of criticism. But that only caused him to double down, as he explained in a follow-up Twitter thread:
“Thread on Israel: so i grabbed the third rail of foreign policy today, as I said Israel needs to pick a side, and that future aid could be at stake. I want to double down on this, let me explain.
“I deeply support our relationship with Israel. But supporting friends doesn’t mean we look past differences. We have stood with Israel and will continue to do so.
“But at the moment there is a battle between Good and Evil, between a world based on raw power or one based one the post WW2 rules. Everyone must pick a side. The outcome of this fight will impact the world my son grows up in, and now is the time to call anyone to the carpet who does not do their utmost.
“If we don’t want to directly attack Russia, then our leverage is in the world uniting in sanctions and assistance for the people of Ukraine. This includes everyone, and Israel doesn’t have a special exemption. Hopefully they will do the right thing.”
Thread on Israel: so i grabbed the third rail of foreign policy today, as I said Israel needs to pick a side, and that future aid could be at stake.
I want to double down on this, let me explain.
— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) March 21, 2022
The daily newspaper Israel Hayom reported on Sunday that the government in Jerusalem has been quietly scrambling to minimize damage to US-Israel relations over its stance on the Russia-Ukraine war.
While Kinzinger has been outspoken in his criticism, there are a number of other prominent names in the Republican Party who are likewise displeased with Israel’s position, among them powerful senators like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz.
Thus far their discontent has only been expressed on the sidelines to pro-Israel elements in Washington. But the longer the war drags on, and the longer Israel tries to play an unbiased mediating role, the bigger the chance that Israel could face bi-partisan hostility on Capitol Hill.
Israel will ultimately side with America
There was already concern toward the beginning of this conflict that efforts to remain quasi-neutral could jeopardize Israel’s standing in Washington. At the time, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stressed that in the end, Israel will always side with America.
“It is natural for Israel to stand with the United States,” Lapid told Channel 12 News in late February.
He was immediately echoed by a chorus of fellow Israeli government officials.
“In the end, if we ever have to choose a side, we will choose the American side,” stressed the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ram Ben-Barak
“Obviously in this story our heart is on one side – with the Americans,” added Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai. “We know where we stand on the international map. The history of the State of Israel and the United States are closely intertwined and our values and interests align. Our heart is in the direction of the United States.”
So what’s the hold-up?
So why is Israel willing to risk souring relations with the US in order to maintain some semblance of neutrality by not joining sanctions against Russia?
As we’ve reported previously, it boils down to three points:
- Israel must retain freedom of operation against Iranian forces and their proxies in Syria, which is by-and-large controlled at present by the Russian military. Doing so requires staying on Moscow’s good side.
- Both Ukraine and Russia still host large Jewish populations that Israel is wary of having become targets of local hostility should the Jewish state take one side or the other. Both countries have a history of anti-Jewish pogroms.
- Jerusalem continues to believe that it can do the most good by bringing a swift end to the conflict through diplomacy, and Israel is one of the few actors on the world stage able to play this role due to its good relations with both sides.