Israel and Ukraine are two very strange countries, both in and of themselves, and in their relationship. Many Israelis are ethnically indistinguishable from their Semitic Arab neighbors, with whom they – despite trenchant efforts by the Israeli elite to prevent it, and pretend it isn’t so – have long been integrated, genetically and culturally. Those ethnically white Israelis you hear speaking English with American or Russian accents are generally of eastern European origins, especially Ukraine and Russia, the very region where it’s all going down at the moment. Which isn’t to say that they’re the ‘evil Israelis’ and the Arabic-looking ones are ‘the good guys’: many Russian and Ukrainian Jews who left for ‘the promised land’ in the early 90s did so because they were starving, and are generally treated like second-class citizens in Israel. Today about half of Israel’s Jews are of Eastern European descent, and most of those are from Russia and Ukraine.
Anyway, it’s obvious now – since the February coup – that Ukraine is a terribly dysfunctional country. But it has also been so for decades. Ukraine became a playground of gangsters long before the NeoCons parachuted Yats and the Right Sektor into power. You’ve heard of ‘the Russian mob’, the leading figures of which also happen to be Jewish and dual Israeli citizens. Just as ‘the oligarchs’ significantly increased their power in Russia when Communism collapsed, turning the country into a ‘Mafia State’, the same thing happened in Ukraine. In 2008, Russia’s 50 wealthiest oligarchs accounted for 35% of the country’s GDP. Ukraine’s 50 wealthiest oligarchs then accounted for a staggering 85% of the country’s GDP, a percentage that has presumably increased since then. Many, but by no means all of them, either identify as ‘Jewish’, are of Jewish extraction, or have explicit dual Israeli nationality.
The difference between Ukraine and Russia is that Putin and his KGB backers arrested the rot, while Ukraine followed the course set for it in the early 1990s to become the shell entity it is today, thoroughly controlled by organized crime and an instrument of intrigue for certain intelligence agencies. Putin, of course, is nevertheless likened to a ‘Mafia don’, routinely portrayed to the world as having enriched himself and his cronies. What you never hear in Western accounts of this reversal in Russia, however, is that Putin has accrued power and centralized wealth back under state stewardship to completely modernize the Russian Federation – up to and, in some cases, overtaking Western ‘first world’ standards. Just compare continuously falling unemployment levels in Russia with haemorrhaging unemployment levels in the US.
While Ukraine’s socio-economic status is rotten by conventional standards, its oligarchial ‘system’ – if we can call it that – makes it wide open for exploitative business deals in such nefarious ‘economic sectors’ as prostitution, human trafficking, drug-running, money-laundering, organ harvesting, and off-the-books arms and energy deals. Israeli businessmen weren’t alone in profiting from these illicit trades – all Eastern European countries were picked apart by vultures from the US and Western Europe after the USSR became history – but the ‘special nature’ of Ukrainian-Israeli relations has been particularly favorable for them.
Beyond bi-lateral trade agreements – in both legitimate and shady enterprises, there are historical, religious and cultural ties binding the two countries. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of Zionist terrorist group ‘Irgun’ – effectively the forerunner to the Mossad – was born and lived in Odessa, Ukraine.
In the decades leading up to Israel’s formal foundation in 1948, the Black Sea port city was referred to by contemporary Jews as the ‘Gateway to Zion’ because it was the main nodal point through which Russian and Ukrainian emigrés ‘made aliyah‘ to Israel. The Jewish Virtual Library describes Odessa as “the chief operational center” for the Russian 1917 revolutionary movement, and the chief cultural and ideological center for the early Zionist movement. The first movement was intended to launch ‘world revolution’ by first subverting Russia; the second to create ‘Eretz Israel’.
In 1905, Jabotinsky was getting his weapons from one Lev Bronstein, aka Leon Trotsky, ostensibly to “protect the local Jewish community” and thus “prevent a pogrom” in Odessa. A decade later, US President Woodrow Wilson would personally issue the passport that enabled Trotsky to travel from New York to Moscow in time to organize the 1917 October Revolution.
Not only are Ukraine’s geographical borders with neighboring countries still disputed, it’s often difficult to tell where Ukraine ends and Israel begins. Nearly all the country’s oligarchs and mob bosses are of Jewish descent and/or have dual Ukrainian-Israeli citizenship, and travel and conduct business freely between both countries. I don’t mean to imply by this that their being Jewish or of Jewish descent necessarily predisposes them towards conducting their money-making and business activities in a manner that is first and foremost ‘good for other Jews’. Issues related to divided loyalties always crop up for wealthy diaspora Jews. Like oligarchs everywhere, they’re thinking in terms of optimal returns on investment for themselves, not ideological nor ethnic considerations about ‘what is or is not good for Israelis’, Ukrainians, or anyone else. Nevertheless, reading historical and current events leaves me with the impression that a combination of financial, historical, religious and cultural factors effectively makes them all behave as if ‘of one mind’.
Some recent episodes might help illustrate the depth and scope of this ‘special relationship’:
- A contingent of “veteran IDF soldiers” who organized a number of Nazi battalions at the Maidan riots. They also claimed to have organized the airborne evacuation of wounded protesters to receive medical attention in Israel, with the help of “funding from private donors and with help from Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel.” The IDF veteran in Kiev who revealed all this to the Times of Israel said he was originally from Ukraine, underscoring the intimate ties between both countries. Members from local chapters of Jewish special interest groups – the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hillel and Limmud – were apparently “really active in organising the Kiev barricades.”
- Since February, death squads have been set up by notorious figures like Igor Kolomoisky, Ukraine’s second-wealthiest man and dual Israeli citizen. Russia recently had an international arrest warrant put out for him for “committing murders and kidnappings“, specifically involving targeted assassinations of opposition figures in Kiev and Russian journalists trying to cover the bloody mayhem in the country’s east. Nice chap, y’know, a “true friend of Israel”.
- When Jewish Ukrainian oligarch and mayor of Kharkov, Hennadiy Kernes, was shot in an apparent attempted assassination shortly after the NeoCons’ Kiev coup, he was immediately flown to Israel for emergency treatment.
- In February 2011, the SBU cooperated with the Mossad to abduct a Palestinian engineer from Gaza, Dirar Abu-Sisi, off a train from Kharkov to Kiev. Sisi was the chief engineer of Gaza’s only electric power plant [yes, the same one the Israelis bombed out of working order today, leaving 1.7 million Gazans without power]. He had been planning to apply for Ukrainian citizenship because he’s married to a Ukrainian woman, and instead reappeared in an Israeli prison, where he was tortured, presumably into giving up the ‘secrets’ of Gaza’s energy source.