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Ukraine and Israel are in the same fight

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Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, I have spent a good deal of time in Ukraine filming three documentaries. And for the past 50 years, I have covered most of Israel’s wars. I was last there in the hours that followed the pogrom of Oct. 7. 

The situations differ, of course. The number of civilian deaths in Gaza caused by Israel’s response has no equivalent in Russia, since Ukraine has not extended its response into enemy territory. 

And I can see how, if one were to judge by images alone, the opposite comparison might come to mind: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu striking in the same manner as Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the ruins in Gaza looking hardly different from those in Mariupol.

The reality, however, is that Ukraine and Israel are both victims of aggression. Their aggressors share a strategy — that of intentionally striking civilian targets. 

The two are indirectly linked: Iran, which supplies Putin with the Shahed drones that I saw barely miss the car carrying Artem Bogomolov, Ukraine’s commander in the Bakhmut zone; the same Iran that made its training camps, its instructors and, perhaps, its strategies available to Hamas in Lebanon. 

Even worse, the two aggressors, Putin and Hamas, share a direct link: Moscow is the only major capital in which the Palestinian terrorists were welcomed both before (Sept. 10) and after (Oct. 26) the attack of Oct. 7. 

Add to this Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s ambiguous game of multiplying his gestures of friendship toward Putin and describing the Hamas killers as “liberators.” Add China’s refusal to condemn Hamas while not missing the chance to affirm its “deep friendship” with Russia, which, moreover, enjoys its “confidence.” 

If you take seriously the art of seeing the world as “a single city” — a view that the ancient Greeks called “geopolitics” — the situation is clear. 

On one side we have in Israel and Ukraine two imperfect democracies — but democracies all the same — that emerged from wars of decolonization, one against the British Empire, the other against the Soviet, later Russian, Empire. 

On the other side stands an alliance against democrats domestic and foreign, an alliance that joins Russia, with its Eurasian ambitions; the Islamic International, from the Taliban to Qatar, with a direct line through Hamas; neo-Ottoman Turkey; an Iran suddenly nostalgic for the great days of the Persian Empire; and a neo-imperial China that never stops counting points, monitoring America’s will to come to the aid of its allies in Europe and the Near East and biding its time before deciding whether or not to open a third front in Taiwan. 

This is not a war of civilizations.

No, it’s a political and ideological war of global scope between the adherents and the adversaries of liberty and law — and by global I do mean the entire world, encompassing the global South as well as the West. Israel and Ukraine, the first targets in the early phases of this globalized war, know what’s at stake.

In “Glory to the Heroes,” I filmed Ukrainian soldiers whose model is the Israel Defense Forces, and I filmed IDF solders fighting in the ranks of the Ukrainian army.

I have spent time in the Jewish communities of Odesa and Dnipro, where residents pray with one voice for Ukraine’s victory and for Israel’s. And I know Israel well enough to know that its civil society took the side of invaded Ukraine very early on. 

I know that Netanyahu was late in understanding this common destiny. But I also know — because he told me, in his Jerusalem office in the days after Oct. 7 — that Israeli President Isaac Herzog believes that his country’s place is alongside that of the only post-Soviet nation to have so deeply confronted its antisemitic past, and to have extended the process of grieving and redemption, to the point of electing a president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who makes no secret of his Judaism. 

No one is unaware of the fact that this heroic president, a descendant of a family of Holocaust survivors who stood up to the invader of his country, like Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucids or David against Goliath, did not wait a minute to condemn the aggression of Hamas, to express his support for the Jewish state and to float the idea of a visit to Israel. 

Terrorism is a family affair. The same barbarism is at work when one deports children from Mariupol as when one takes hostages from the kibbutz of Kfar Aza. The same savagery is at work when one slaughters and massacres like monsters in Bucha or at the kibbutz Be’eri.

Against this international of the worst there stands what the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka called the “solidarity of the shaken.”

Israel and Ukraine are in the same fight.

The outcome of this new Great Game will be decided on both of these frontlines. And in the balance is the rise or fall of liberal values. 

It would be perilous indeed to give in to the temptation to put our emergencies in rank order, to prioritize our compassion and to cut Ukraine’s aid in favor of Israel — or vice versa. 

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, filmmaker and the author of more than 45 books. His third and latest film from the frontlines on the war against Ukraine, “Glory to the Heroes,” was just released nationwide in the U.S. and follows two prior documentary film, “Slava Ukraini” and “Why Ukraine.”

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