Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Groysman, for his country’s rejection earlier this month of the UNESCO resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
Ukraine was one of a minority of 10 countries that tried but failed to quash the resolution. It was a move that made amends for Ukraine’s vote in the UN Security Council in December in favor of Resolution 2334 which condemned Israeli settlement construction.
“You reaffirmed that friendship for us in the important vote in UNESCO, which sets our relations on a future course, which I deeply appreciate,” Netanyahu said.
“I know your own personal involvement in this decision, and it’s doubly appreciated. And I know your stance and the stance of the government against antisemitism, and that’s triply appreciated,” Netanyahu added.
“There is a common history that binds Ukraine and Israel. Some of it is laced with tragedy, but it is also laced with hope and with sympathy. You surely know that Ukraine was a source of much of the revival of the Hebrew language and Zionism. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the revival of the modern Jewish state without the Jews who came from Ukraine,” Netanyahu said.
Groysman arrived in Israel this week with a delegation of ministers for meetings with Netanyahu to finalize cooperation deals with regard to counterterrorism, health and statistical data exchanges.
Groysman also met on Monday with President Reuven Rivlin and was scheduled to see Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, members of the business community and the heads of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
After the Security Council vote, Groysman was disinvited in December from a scheduled official visit to Israel, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ukrainian-Israeli diplomatic ties.
In response, Ambassador to Ukraine Eli Belotsercovsky was summoned by Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, which expressed its extreme displeasure at the snub to its head of government.
In Groysman’s case, it was doubly humiliating because he happens to be his country’s first prime minister of the Jewish faith. He had been elected only months previously.
Rivlin greeted him with effusive warmth, saying that it was an honor and a pleasure to welcome him to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
Groysman arrived at the meeting with Rivlin after a visit to Yad Vashem, and made no secret of the emotional impression that the site had made on him, particularly at the Children’s Memorial when reading the list of names of 1.5 million children who had been murdered by the Nazis.
The Holocaust, its atrocities and its lessons took up a significant part of the conversation between Rivlin and Groysman.
Rivlin was in Ukraine last year to deliver a memorial address at Babi Yar, the ravine where mass massacres were carried out by the Nazis. Due to the death former president Shimon Peres, he had to cut short his visit to Kiev, but continued his conversation with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, when the latter came to Israel for the funeral.
Rivlin said that he was pleased to see how committed Groysman and Poroshenko were to fighting antisemitism. Alluding to Ukrainian collusion with the Nazis during World War II, Rivlin said that although Israel and Ukraine enjoy very friendly relations today, in order to promote better understanding between the peoples of the two countries, it is important to acknowledge the past.
Groysman had actually confronted the past at Yad Vashem, but at the same time was happy to report that 2,500 of his fellow countrymen had been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
Both Groysman and Rivlin referred to the fact that Nazis and fascists made no ethnic distinctions in their murderous onslaught, but also killed Roma and large numbers of Ukrainians.
For all that, Rivlin insisted that no other tragedy could compare with the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish people.
Groysman also spoke of the much more recent and even current suffering inflicted on the Ukrainians by the Russians.
Rivlin disclosed that this had come up in discussions that he had with President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow in March 2016.