Russia’s assault on Ukraine, with its resulting tragic creation of millions more refugees, continues to receive massive mainstream news media coverage. Most of it, unfortunately, remains narrowly focused (Sky Television has even banned RT ‘Russia Today’ from broadcasting on its network) and largely ignores the ominously growing lack of respect for human rights and international law on all sides.
Refugees elsewhere are losing more recognition now than ever before, and those responsible for their suffering hide behind hypocritical pronouncements of concern. Earlier this month, US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, demanded that the UN Human Rights Council strip Russia of its UNHRC membership while later denouncing the Council‘s investigations into Israel‘s inhumanities against the Palestinian people as “a stain on the council’s credibility”. UNHRC investigations have found Israel responsible for persistent human rights violation, including “the right to life”.
On 20 March, Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in an address to Israel’s Knesset, claimed that Ukraine had saved Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. Zelensky complained that, while Israel’s PM, Naftali Bennett, had refused to provide Ukraine with Iron Dome technology, it could still provide more aid. He wanted to know why Israel had not imposed powerful sanctions on Russia and Russian businesses. It would seem that Israel and Russia’s delicate tip-toeing around each other in Syria had escaped Zelensky’s notice. Israel’s Communications Minister, Yoaz Hendel, expressed outrage at Zelensky‘s comments, saying “comparison to the horrors of the Holocaust and the final solution is outrageous.” Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, described Zelensky’s comments as making “completely inaccurate comparisons with Nazi ideology and actions before and during the Holocaust.”
During the Second World War, right-wing factions in Ukraine supported anti-Jewish prejudice and, according to The National Geographic, had collaborated with the Nazi Occupiers: “According to German historian Dieter Pohl, around 100,000 joined police units that provided key assistance to the Nazis.” Many others staffed the local bureaucracies or lent a helping hand during mass shootings of Jewish people. They were also to be found among guards who manned the Nazi death camps. As the German Army made its retreat from Ukraine, near the end of the war, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and some nationalist units and partisan groups killed Jews attempting to hide in the forests. The National Geographic quotes American historian, Wendy Lower, saying: “there were many perpetrators, albeit with different political agendas, who killed Jews and suppressed this history.” According to The Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Ukraine has, to the best of our knowledge, never conducted a single investigation of a local Nazi war criminal, let alone prosecuted a Holocaust perpetrator.”
Unexpectedly, Ukrainian and Palestinian refugees have suddenly appeared on-stage together. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has condemned the Israeli Government‘s welcoming of Jewish refugees from Ukraine, while refusing the same to exiled Palestinians. JVP reminded the world that: “The Israeli government is settling Jewish Ukrainian refugees on land it illegally occupies and prevents seven million Palestinian refugees from returning to” and pointed out that Ukrainian refugees would become settlers “with the privileges given to the dominant demographic in a settler-colonial apartheid state.” Here in New Zealand, Sh’ma Koleinu – Alternative Jewish Voices (NZ) has raised the issue at some depth, noting that Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally-mandated Right of Return for 74 years, concluding: “We wish all refugees safe refuge until they are able to choose resettlement or return to their homes. For the very same reason, we recognise the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. When the land between the river and the sea is governed by, and in the interests of, all of its citizens then others of any religion can apply to immigrate.”
In Ukraine, people of colour seeking refuge are also being ill-treated. The American weekly magazine Newsweek reports that people from Ukraine’s population of at least 20,000 black academics, medical students, professionals and refugees trying to flee the Russian invasion have been “manhandled” and “routinely told to get to the back of the line.” Likewise, Huffpost has reported that African students and other immigrants are facing racist treatment as they seek to flee cities under attack. Black people are being kept from boarding buses and trains, even though white Ukrainians have been able to. Even the United Nations’ High Commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, has recognised the “different treatment”. The French television news network, euronews, also notes that, “while international praise is heaped upon countries like Romania, Hungary and Poland for accepting asylum seekers from Ukraine, not all refugees are being welcomed with open arms.” News is emerging of non-white people being stopped at the border queues to neighbouring nations and being turned away completely. Professor Ziad Majed notes that there is a “shocking distinction between Ukrainian citizens and refugees from the Middle East.” The Independent quotes a Nigerian national: “When I look into the eyes of those who are turning us away, I see bloodshot racism.”
Within days of the invasion of Ukraine, Western governments called urgently for sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment against Russia — yet, for 54 years and counting, have done nothing to bring pressure upon Israel to end its military Occupation and merciless population-control in Palestine. Since 1967, the Palestinian people have been forced to endure the bombing of civilians, relentless acts of land theft, imposition of illegal foreign settlements and day and night home invasions. Hugely financed by the United States, the Zionist state’s military Occupation denies freedom of movement and practises ruinous agricultural, pastoral and economic sabotage on an ever-increasing scale. Even though these gross violations of international humanitarian law have turned millions of Palestinians into refugees, Western-aligned governments, including New Zealand, still refuse to sanction Israel.
Make the oligarchs pay – if only!
There is a clear message here, not only for Palestinians but also for Yemenis, Iraqis, Afghans and anyone else whose ethnicity or strategic location does not fit the purpose of the Great Powers. Former US Vice President, Mike Pence, visited Israel recently and toured the city of Hebron in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank with two of Israel’s most notorious far-Right activists, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel. Pence said the meeting was a “great honour”. Ben-Gvir’s political movement, the Otzma Yehudit Party, is considered to be a terror organisation, even by the US Government. The organisation endorses violence against non-Jews as well as “accursed Christianity”. Miriam Adelson and her husband, Sheldon, gave more than half a billion US dollars to Republican campaigns, Party organs, and interest groups during the past five election campaigns. Pence had reportedly travelled to Israel on a private Adelson aircraft. According to If Americans Knew, Miriam is an Israeli citizen worth at least US$30billion who intends to be a force in both the 2022 US mid-term elections and beyond. Her late husband once said he regretted not having served in the Israeli military.
In the UK, a pillar of the Western alliance, the ruling Conservative Party, has benefitted from massive financial support from Russian oligarchs. Make no mistake, the influence of capitalism and corporate greed recognises no borders or boundaries. For those who invest in it, war is both profitable and acceptable. But there are wider, more unifying interests that cross political divides and, thankfully, recognise the global community’s need for peace, respect and co-operation.
The practicality and benefits of peace
Back in 2014, Henry Kissinger wrote “. . . if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.” He also noted that, “Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then.” Thankfully, the United States and NATO member governments have firmly declared that they will never engage their armed forces in Ukraine. There is then, hope for lasting peace. Professor Anatol Lieven has outlined an informative, unifying way forward to a Negotiated Peace in Ukraine that helps bridge ideological and political divisions. It is well worth consideration by everyone — especially our leaders.