Remarks by Ambassador Michael Brodsky, Edited and Translated
In a wide-ranging speech entitled “Not our war,” Brodsky said that Israel has no strategic interest in Ukraine except, perhaps, the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslow that is a magnet for tens of thousands of Israelis annually. The war takes place at a far distance from Israel and the Middle East, in an area that has always been in the periphery of Israel’s national interests. Yet the war in Ukraine has several direct implications for Israel, most of them negative, making Israel an inseparable part of what is happening, whether it likes it or not. The many areas in which the war in Ukraine has significant impact on Israel turns a war that ostensibly is not Israel’s into a war that is ours, presenting Israel with very difficult choices between being part of the West and maintaining Israel’s strategic interests with respect to Russia, a superpower. So far, Israel has managed to maneuver in a pretty good way, choosing to be relatively cautious, yet with a clear line of solidarity with Ukraine.
Israel is also impacted by questions of food security arising from the war. Ukraine has always been considered the world’s breadbasket. Half of the wheat Israel imports comes from Ukraine. Today it is difficult to ship the wheat because of closures of Black Sea ports. This could lead to many negative developments for Israel and for the entire region, creating a shortage of wheat not just for Israel but the wider Middle East, in countries that are far less developed. One of the triggers for the Arab Spring was the increase in the price of bread. The increase in the price of gas and shipping could lead to a shortage and increase on food prices that could lead to instability and regimen changes in countries neighboring Israel.
The weakening of Russia in the Middle East, exemplified by its partial retreat from Syria, is not necessarily good for Israel because the vacuum that has been created was quickly seized by Iranian forces, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. This makes Russia much more agitated and sensitive to any damage to its interests in the Middle East and therefore it could also impact on Israel’s leeway in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular.
The war has also impacted the high-tech sector in Israel that employs 30,000 Ukrainian programmers and the construction industry that relies on materials and some construction workers from Ukraine that are no longer available and could lead to increase in already-high housing costs.
From the first days of the war, the “Jewish card” has been used by both sides in the conflict. Ethnicity—including Jewish ethnicity—is at the heart of the conflict in Ukraine now. Both sides are using terms which are taken from the Holocaust—including Russia’s argument that they have invaded Ukraine in order to “denazify” it. While there have been expressions of nationalism in Ukraine, as in other countries, it is difficult to speak about Nazis in the government when the president is Jewish, the minister of defense is Jewish and half of the Ukrainian leading political figures are Jewish. All the comparisons between what the Ukrainians are suffering now to what the Jews suffered in the Holocaust are very vexing for Israel and Jews, but they appeal to the public and are often used, even by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his speech to the Knesset. This comparison is deeply rooted in the Ukrainian public consciousness.
The war has rendered a significant blow to the Jewish world because there is a disconnect today between the Russian Jewish community and Jewish communities in Ukraine and the West. Just as Russia is sanctioned, the large and glorious Jewish community there will find itself under international sanctions from Jewish communities and organizations.
As far as the State of Israel is concerned, it would be best for this war to end as soon as possible; It has not one positive implication. This is indeed Israel’s war, although so far it has been exposed only to the tip of the iceberg; the most significant implications lay ahead.
Remarks by 2022 Award Winner Ariel Kahana, Edited and Translated
In his acceptance speech, Ariel Kahana said his experiences in Diaspora communities taught him that the Jews of the Diaspora are in captivity, not of the body of the mind and the spirit. Our role in Israel is to feel sorry for them and help them to get from captivity into light; we must try to touch them from Israel as much as we can. Jews all over the world yearn for a connection to Israel; this is a historic change as not long ago, Jews of the Diaspora saw Israel as a temporary experiment and their role was to help us; now the roles are reversed, and Israel is at the center.
Remarks by Certificate of Merit Awardee Yisrael Katzover, Edited and Translated
In a heartfelt address, Yisrael Katzover—the first journalist from the ultra-Orthodox press to be recognized by the award—said that throughout his 60-year career, his motto has been “I seek my brethren”—a Torah passage taken from the story of the sale of Joseph. His search is for closeness with his brothers. The B’nai B’rith Award is a tribute to our work searching and reporting on the lives of our brothers in the Diaspora in the desire to bring Babylon and Jerusalem closer together because with every year that passes, the crack between the two is regretfully ever widening, like two continents moving away from each other. Through my travels to nearly every Jewish community in the world I discovered with great pain that the Diaspora has become the greatest national creation of the Jewish People. I regret this fact. Our job as Diaspora correspondents is to build bridges between Israel and the Diaspora and in so doing, we continue the tradition of Jewish travelers who many hundreds of years ago—even millenia—chronicled distant Jewish communities and sought the ten tribe.
Remarks by Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Shlomo Nakdimon, Edited and Translated
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Shlomo Nakdimon, a B’nai B’rith member and former member on the award jury, called on the Jews of the world, first and foremost in Ukraine, to immigrate to Israel; You should know that you have no other place to live than the Land and State of Israel.
Remarks by Shuli Natan, Recipient of the Special Citation for Fostering Israel-Diaspora Relations through the Arts in Memory of Naomi Shemer, and Special Guest Lely Shemer, Edited and Translated
Lely Shemer noted that maintaining a connection to Jewish communities around the world was of great importance to her mother and that she did so from early in her career until shortly before her death, when she traveled to Washington when she was unwell and resorted to a wheelchair. She has not been with us for some time, but she is always with us, and she left some treasures behind.
Shuli Natan thanked Naomi and Lely Shemer for discovering her and exposing her to so many Jewish communities and countries around the world.