The international solidarity movement with Ukraine, together with the left within Ukraine, needs to begin having a conversation about Volodymyr Zelensky.
We are well aware of our political and class differences with Zelensky. They have been overlooked or put aside by the international solidarity movement, or at least left without emphasis, in the interests of supporting the defensive war effort of the Ukrainian nation. This effort is widely seen as being outstandingly led by Zelensky. I am reminded how a united left rhetorically backed Ho Chi Minh throughout the Vietnam War without the left of the left making too much of a fuss about some of his highly objectionable actions. Hence Zelensky’s neoliberalism, his forelock-tugging of the West, his anti-worker legislation, his apparent tolerance for some manifestations of the far right in Ukraine, his new concession to property developers, etc., are not made an issue, except to offer solidarity to our socialist and trade union comrades in Ukraine who are fighting the anti-labour laws in particular.
However there is one area where I feel we – the international solidarity movement and the Ukrainian left – can no longer keep public silence about Zelensky. And that is Israel.
His obsequious and nauseating Twitter message of congratulations (above) to Netanyahu practically mirrored the one from the EU’s Ursula Von der Leyen (below). Except for Von der Leyen’s extra layer of hypocrisy in actually referring to Ukraine while representing a vigorous policy on Ukraine that should also be the policy on the occupying, invading, apartheid, terrorist state of Israel.
Standing as the leader of a nation, Ukraine, under massive assault by a criminal and internationally-condemned aggressor, Russia, while solidifying with the criminal and internationally-condemned aggressor, Israel, of another nation, Palestine, defies logic and mars the cause of a free Ukraine, stooping to declaring “common challenges” with Israel and achieving “victory over evil” (the oppressed poor of Palestine?!). But it also offers low-hanging fruit to Putinist, campist and evasionist propaganda. The most contemptible and immovable supporters of Russia in this war have published Zelensky’s Twitter message of congratulation to Netanyahu. This at a time when the reportedly most right-wing Israeli government ever has stepped up its attacks, murders and occupations and passed even tougher apartheid laws.
The international left and the international solidarity movement cannot maintain silence on Zelensky’s relations with the terrorist state of Israel. On a world scale, the oppression of Palestine equates as an issue with the invasion of Ukraine. The values which impel us to support Ukraine and oppose Russia and Putinism are exactly the values which have led us to support Palestine and oppose Israel and Zionism. Furthermore every statement from Zelensky such as his recent Twitter message to Netanyahu is a hostage to fortune and is thrown into our faces by Putinist elements. In places, such as Ireland, we find ourselves in a decided minority on Ukraine in the organised radical left, while there is a substantial, honourable and long-standing movement of solidarity with Palestine, particularly again in Ireland as it happens. Each disgusting paean from Zelensky, and some other leading Ukrainians, to Israel damages our work in building solidarity for Ukraine – long damaged it seems among Palestinians by Zelensky’s identification with Israel and by Western hypocrisy on Ukraine and Palestine. And damages our work in combating the waves of pro-Russian propaganda, the outpourings of ‘proxy war’ dogmatism and evasion, and the deep-seated campism on the left which offers these viewpoints and talking points such fertile ground.
Last August, following Israeli news reports that Yevhen Korniichuk, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel, had tweeted support for Israel while it was attacking and killing Palestinians, the US based Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign published an open letter addressed to President Zelensky and sent to the Ukrainian Embassy. According to news reports, Korniichuk wrote in a tweet on August 7th, “As a Ukrainian, while our country is under brutal attack from a close neighbor – I feel great sympathy towards the Israeli public. Terror and malicious attacks towards citizens have become daily matter for Israelis and Ukrainians.”
The Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity Campaign wrote:
We’re shocked to learn that your government supported the recent Israeli “pre-emptive” attack on Palestinians in Gaza.…We are dismayed and angry that your government would talk about Palestinian “terrorism” when it was Israel that is killing Palestinians and smashing up Gaza, just as Russia is killing Ukrainians and smashing up parts of Ukraine.
The situation for the Palestinian people has much in common with the Ukrainian people. In both cases a right wing reactionary regime is stealing land and territory from the people. In Israel-occupied Palestine the Israeli regime is steadily encroaching on the land of the Palestinian people in the West Bank as well as in Israel itself. In Ukraine, imperialist Russia is trying to annex thousands of square miles of Ukrainian land.
Similar and more widespread statements are needed again now. There is a need first of all to ask our comrades in Ukraine, such as Sotsialniy Rukh (who made a brief but fine statement on Palestine in November), to publish a strong condemnation of Zelensky’s message to Netanyahu combined with a strong statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people. And for a similar statement, or statements, from as many of the Ukraine solidarity campaigns and organisations around the world as possible.
Des Derwin is a supporter of Irish Left With Ukraine.