Two windows into genocide: Ukrainian-Jewish understanding during parallel wars

On the evening of 11 October 2023, I was anxiously following the news on various channels. It was the fifth day of the war in Israel, the fifth day after the most brutal attack by Hamas militants on the country's southern towns and villages on 7 October.

Suddenly, an air raid siren sounded in our area. My wife and I immediately brought our two small children into a fortified room/bomb shelter; the heavy window shutters, made of armored metal, had been lowered earlier.

I tell the children that we're playing a game to see who can run fastest into the room and jump on the sofa the longest. The siren falls silent; we wait another ten minutes, then leave. We got an announcement saying that the siren had been switched on by accident; this time, nothing was flying toward our city.

The news feed transmits an urgent message, flashing on the screen in red letters, from Israel's Home Front Command: "Air raid sirens are going off right now in Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Rishon Lezion! Head to shelters!" Another window on my computer is flashing a different urgent message: "Missile alert in Kharkiv! Head to shelters!"

I live in northern Israel, between Mt. Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea, and I am seeing how rockets are flying toward the city where I was born in Ukraine at the same time as rockets are flying into Israel, the country where I have established a home and a family. A sense of total surrealism — as though two parallel realities are merging into a single mosaic.

Alliance of terrorists and solidarity of nations

The Israeli city of Rishon Lezion and the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv are twinned. Whereas during peacetime, they were connected by civic and humanitarian projects, at the present time, they are bound by the threat of missile attacks carried out by two terrorist regimes: radical Islamist Hamas from the Gaza Strip and radical Rashism [= Russian fascism] from Moscow, respectively.

These regimes have established warm relations. Every few months, Hamas delegations arrive in Moscow, where they are welcomed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the RF as dear guests, and Lavrov, the foreign minister, personally holds talks with them.

In response, Hamas's attack on Israel was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, and it happened on Putin's birthday, 7 October. Afterwards, Hamas "thanked the leadership of the RF for its support."

In November 2023, Hamas declared that "in a show of respect for President Putin," it was releasing Israeli hostages with Russian citizenship. It is so "touching" that these terrorists respect Putin, whom they regard as a role model.

Moscow's support of radical Islamist terrorism obviously includes both international legitimization of this terrorist organization of bloody killers and the training of Hamas militants by Wagner Group fighters, who teach them how to operate armed drones.

Hamas plus Moscow = Hamascow, with Iran in the picture — the same script, the same goals, the same finances, the same thirst for killing, and the same disregard for international norms and morality.

On Friday morning, 6 October 2023, the Russian army struck the historic center of Kharkiv with an Iskander missile, which left a gigantic crater two hundred meters from Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz's house. All the windows in his house shattered, like many windows in Kharkiv's Choral Synagogue. Rabbi Moskovitz tells me on the phone: "Despite this, this evening we will still celebrate Simchat Torah in the synagogue! The joy of Torah will break through all obstacles!"

The next morning, 7 October, Hamas attacked Israel and killed over 1,400 people. Three days later, Rabbi Moskovitz sent me a photo: on the left is the dome of his synagogue, in the middle is the flag of Israel displayed on gigantic electronic screens at Kharkiv's biggest commercial center located near the synagogue. Kharkiv expresses solidarity with Israel.

In October and November 2023, millions of Israelis grasped this terror connection: Iran, which is arming and training Hamas militants, is the same Iran that is sending Shahed drones to Russia to attack the peaceful cities of Ukraine.

Are these two parallel wars, one against Ukraine and the other against Israel? Are these the two fronts, a Ukrainian and an Israeli one, of a single global war against world Evil?

Historians and military experts will eventually provide an exact academic definition, but in the meantime, ordinary Ukrainians and Jews are seeing common enemies and expressing Ukraine's solidarity with Israel online.

A shared destiny

Ukrainian special forces are recording video messages and sending them to Tzahal (Israel Defence Forces): "We understand you very well and support you in your struggle against terrorists."

In response to the Ukrainian soldiers's messages, female soldiers from Israel's Caracal Battalion, who protect the country's border with Egypt, sent a video with words of support and wishes for Ukraine's victory. Who could have imagined such a thing even one month ago?

"We have a common enemy — terrorists," says Polina Tsiberman, a Jewish woman from the Ukrainian city of Rivne, who, after graduating, moved to Israel, where she is a soldier in the reserves. Meanwhile, her parents are in Ukraine, fighting against Russia.

Tsiberman recounted Russian atrocities against residents of Israel, and on 7 October, she landed in the epicenter of yet another war.

"In our country, we are becoming increasingly opposed to Russia because we are certain that Russia had a hand in the events of 7 October. There is even a video in which Bucha is compared to what happened in our country. Powerful propaganda is working against Israel, because the Palestinians know how to create fakes, just like the Russians know how to do this against Ukraine," said Tsiberman on Rivne television.

People in Ukraine understand the Israeli catastrophe very well because they themselves are still experiencing such tragedies and are all too familiar with the sight of plastic body bags containing the corpses of the residents of Bucha. Just like we in Israel have committed to memory the same rows of body bags containing the bodies of the murdered residents of Kibbutz Be'eri.

The blood-covered children's toy after a Russian rocket exploded in Kramatorsk is similar to a toy in Kfar Aza.

Ukrainians see the similarity between the killer-partners from the "axis of evil" that is breaking into their peaceful lives in order to cover all of Ukraine and all of Israel with body bags. They see how Moscow is nurturing Hamas and how Lavrov is welcoming delegations of these terrorists to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the RF.

Against the backdrop of these "dances on blood" and the malicious joy of the mass media and social media in Russia, along the lines of "Serves Israel right! That's for helping Ukraine and the alliance with America," the people and the government of Ukraine express their heartfelt sympathies and solidarity with Israel.

In Odesa and Kyiv, Avraham Wolff, Chief Rabbi of Odesa, says that all public display screens in those cities are displaying the Israeli flag. "I saw a photo showing Ukrainian soldiers and the head of Kherson oblast holding the Israeli flag. As a citizen of Israel, I want to extend a big thank-you to the Ukrainian people for their support, and a big thank-you to the president and city mayors. I am convinced that Israel will not forget this, and this will only strengthen our inter-state relations," says Rabbi Wolff.

Michael Brodsky, Israel's Ambassador to Ukraine, called Ukraine the "most pro-Israeli country in Europe."

Andrii Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, recently published an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz entitled "This Is Why Ukraine Supports Israel." Here are a few fragments:

"Thousands of rockets fly toward peaceful cities. The torture and executions of civilians; looting; the execution of POWs, and the kidnapping of children — we are very familiar with this scenario. And that is precisely why today Bucha in Ukraine is mourning Re'im in Israel.

This horrific terrorist attack on Israel has caused pain in the hearts of Ukrainians, not only because, historically, the fates of our people are closely interwoven, but also because, in our time, we are forced to fight for the same basic rights: to be ourselves and to live securely in our land."

Yermak is convinced that the similarity between these tragedies is not accidental: "These are parts of one plan, elements of an asymmetrical war that the' axis of evil' is waging against the free world. Hatred and disregard for life are cementing the alliance of Russia, Iran, North Korea, and their many trusted individuals. Hatred is a product that they want to promote."

In October and November 2023, the members of Israeli Friends of Ukraine, the leading pro-Ukrainian organization in Israel, shipped dozens of tons of humanitarian aid and medicines both to Ukraine and to the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces, because both of these wars are perceived as one, multifaceted threat.

Jews and Ukrainians in the USA

This doubling of threats and linking of the two wars, which I am sensing in Israel, is also perceived by Anna Yuz-Mosenkis, a Ukrainian-Jewish woman who lives in the city of Omaha, Nebraska (USA).

Yuz-Mosenskis lived through the accident at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant before arriving in the US as a refugee from the Soviet Union. "My heart is torn in half," she told KETV NewsWatch 7. Her family lives in two countries that are plunged into war: Ukraine and Israel.

She gets phone calls and WhatsApp notifications from her relatives who are staying in bomb shelters on two different continents. "I wrote to them. Please don't ignore the air raid sirens. Be strong," says Yuz-Mosenkis.

"It is difficult to understand and difficult to imagine the killing of little children, the killing of elderly people who survived the Holocaust — for what reason?" Anna finds solace in Jewish and Ukrainian songs, sends money to both countries, and prays. "Ukraine needs peace. And right now, Israel is experiencing a powerful attack. That's why all of us need peace," she says.

On 2 November 2023, Olga Fraiman, a Ukrainian-Jewish woman who immigrated to the United States thirty years ago, delivered a speech in Minnesota at a joint Ukrainian-Jewish meeting about the wars in Israel and Ukraine. The speakers, Jews and Ukrainians alike, talked about how this bloodshed is connected and compared Hamas's terrorism to Russia's war crimes. They called on Washington legislators to fulfill President Biden's request to fund military aid to both countries.

"But you know who gets it? The Ukrainians do. Ukraine and Israel are connected because Hamas and Russia are connected. Ukraine and Israel are fighting the same existential war. This is a war of democracy against despotism," Fraiman said at the meeting.

These words are echoed by Maria Sheremeta, president of the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minnesota: "The Moscow-led terrorist club intends to plunge the world into chaos and violence. The terrorists must be stopped immediately in Ukraine and in Israel. This is a global responsibility that transcends borders and politics."

The American dilemma

In what is being called a historic speech, on 19 October 2023, US President Joe Biden tied the wars in Ukraine and Israel together, calling them a national security imperative. Biden spelled it out clearly: We have to beat Hamas and Putin's Russian Federation.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, throwing his support behind President Biden's idea, stressed the importance of a unified US position on these two wars:

"If the USA fights against evil, against this axis of evil, then there is no difference whether it does this in Ukraine or in Israel; whether it is Hamas or the Russian government, which operates like Hamas and is terrorizing the civilian population of Ukraine. It is important to fight terror no matter where it is."

The financial reflection of this new concept of Biden's was the president's request to Congress to provide 14 billion dollars to Israel and 61 billion to Ukraine in military aid and security assistance.

US Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) supported President Biden's request for funds for Israel's security and reminded his colleagues that Ukraine is also acutely in need of support. Durbin emphasized that Congress should be mindful of the atrocities that are taking place in both countries, and of the need to fight Hamas, the terrorist organization and Putin, the dictator.

"Think of this impromptu visit by the Hamas terrorists to Moscow… Coincidence? Just happened to be part of the travel plan? No. Hamas had already attacked Israel. They were branded as a terrorist group. Where did they go to find solace? Where did they go to find a friend? They go to Moscow, to Vladimir Putin. Why would we get soft on Putin at this moment?"

He continued, "What's happening in Israel is a mirror of what is happening in Ukraine. A tyrant with atrocious conduct, unprovoked invasion of a country, innocent people killed. That's the story in both places."

But, the bill that would provide assistance to both Israel and Ukraine has caused fierce controversy in Congress. Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill about helping Israel, but not Ukraine. Angry Democrats have blocked this bill in the Senate and are demanding a new one in which funding for Israel and Ukraine will be in a single aid package.

The competing interests of Israel and Ukraine, at play in the US Congress, are music to the ears of Moscow, Teheran, and Hamas.

But the real dilemma facing Americans should not be about choosing a preference — whom to help, Ukraine or Israel? — but about searching for ways to offer support for Ukraine and Israel together and at the same time.

A land dispute or a risk of genocide?

In an article published in Newsweek on 24 October 2023, Eli Crane, U.S. Representative, Arizona (R), voiced the opinion of American isolationists:

"The Establishment is dead set on wedging America into the conflict in Ukraine despite our relationship with Ukraine providing no net benefit to the US. We have no business inserting ourselves in this war to defend a non-ally simply to police the world. Continuing to bankroll a land dispute in Eastern Europe that we can't afford, siphoning funds away from securing our border and giving it parity with Israel's existential war against genocidal Islamic terrorists, is reckless and irresponsible," wrote the congressman.

I am grateful to Mr. Crane for his unqualified support of Israel, but I cannot agree with the honorable congressman about Ukraine.

No, this is not some sort of "land dispute in Eastern Europe."

What Putin's Russia is doing in the war against Ukraine — the mass killings of civilians in Bucha, Irpin, Izium, and other cities, the kidnapping and forced adoptions of thousands of Ukrainian children, the destruction of urban infrastructure, attempts to starve people by bombing granaries, banning the Ukrainian language in the occupied territories, and denying the very existence of a separate Ukrainian nation — all these are the hallmarks of genocide.

The mass atrocities that Hamas carried out against Jews on 7 October 2023 and the mass killings and persecution of Ukrainians by Russian troops in 2022 and 2023 have become two "windows into genocide" for Israel and Ukraine.

Through these two windows, both countries, each in its turn, has seen a horror film unfolding. Over the course of a single day, Israelis basically saw a mini-repetition of the Nazi Holocaust. Ukrainians saw Bucha and its repetition in many variations over the course of Russia's two-year-long barbaric aggression that is bleeding Ukraine dry.

Hamas's genocidal aims and methods against Israel are obvious: the total destruction of the Jews, as stated in the 1988 charter of this terrorist organization. Iran, too, has declared its intention "to wipe Israel off the map."

The genocidal aims of Putin's Russia with regard to Ukraine may not be that obvious and straightforward; they are hidden in the mendacious package of "the struggle against Nazism" and a "conflict with NATO." But the essence of Putin's war against the Ukrainian people remains unchanged: the liquidation of the Ukrainian nation as such, along with the takeover of this nation's territory and resources.

And if, in order to realize these goals, Moscow sees the need to send millions of Ukrainians to concentration camps or to starve them to death, like in 1933, then Russia will do this without hesitating — if the US and the entire free world do not stop Russia now.

Both Israel and Ukraine are heading into 2024 with unresolved existential threats. This is precisely why US support for both countries is vitally important.

Text and photo: Shimon Briman (Israel)

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk