Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman ShaiYonatan Sindel/Flash90

As the crisis between Russia and Ukraine deepens, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai explained why Israel has refrained from taking a public stand on the issues involved.

“Israel is watching events closely, aware that they will likely have ramifications on an international scale which could extend to our region as well,” Shai told Radio 103FM. “In general, we tend to support the United States in international disputes, but we also have excellent relations with Russia and also with Ukraine, and therefore, for many years now, Israel has been treading a very careful line between those two eastern European countries and has avoided taking a public position. Even when half of the Crimean peninsula was invaded, Israel refrained from taking a stand,” he noted.

According to Shai, “The various considerations that come into play here are extremely complex. We have been absolutely meticulous in avoiding giving the impression that we support either Russia or Ukraine. Russia is our neighbor,” he added.

Asked to comment on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s offer to serve as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, Shai said, “I, personally, would never have gone in that direction, not under any circumstances. There’s no need to get into a sticky situation that you won’t be able to emerge from victorious or at least having gained something of value. Israel should distance itself from adopting a position with regard to this particular dispute and should instead focus on protecting her own interests – preserving her good relations both with Russia and Ukraine. We should be keeping our distance as far as is absolutely possible.”

Shai added that, “Right now, our focus should be on Israeli citizens still on Ukrainian soil, as well as on the Jewish communities of Ukraine and Russia. If Israel takes a position on one side or the other, this will have an immediate impact on the lives of Jews there. Any decision we make as a country has a ripple effect on the lives of Jews across the world, which is why we must be so careful to keep their safety and welfare in mind.”