Address by PM Netanyahu at the Special Knesset Session in Honor of the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko
Photo by Haim Zah, GPO  

– Translation –

President Poroshenko, Petro, welcome to Israel and to Jerusalem, our capital.

This is the third day of your visit to Jerusalem, and I am certain that you feel how much you are a welcome guest and a close friend.

This is a special opportunity for me to meet you here. We have talked on the phone several times before, and we recently met at the Climate Conference in Paris, and now it is my privilege to welcome you to Jerusalem, our eternal capital, on your official visit to the Knesset as President of Ukraine.

Yesterday, we discussed in length different ways to strengthen the ties between us, not only increasing the number of tourists, that number is growing all the time – that is important; a free trade area, as the Speaker mentioned – that is important; a solution to the problem of pensions for Israeli citizens who immigrated from Ukraine – that’s important. I told you that one thing is even deeper: we are an ancient people that embraces the future, and I believe that although we are two ancient peoples, our countries are young and we look toward, and want to embrace the future together. We have a long-standing relationship. Ukraine and the State of Israel have enjoyed a special bond for many hundreds of years. It’s been official for 25 years, and we are now adding more layers to it. We want to harness progress to the benefit of our citizens. We are striving for new avenues of cooperation in economy, trade, science, technology, healthcare, agriculture, tourism, culture. We discussed all of these areas.

We greatly appreciate your efforts, Mr. President, to march Ukraine forward. I know from experience that the journey is not always easy, putting it mildly. Along the journey there are many potholes and obstacles that need to be overcome, much bureaucracy and a lot of populism, and all these need to be overcome. I am sure that you can tell me quite a lot about these problems, as I can tell you – and we did. But what gives us the strength to withstand the hardships of the journey is the deep faith in our ability to shape a better future, for us and for future generations.

The world is changing at an incredible pace, and we must move forward with it, to fulfill the great potential for innovation and inventiveness, because that is the only way to ensure prosperity for both our peoples.

Mr. President, my friend Petro, your visit here allows you to see firsthand the things that Israel has accomplished in our 67 years of independence. These accomplishments are not obvious. For many generations we were denied the right to build our country; we were removed from it by sword; and the majority of our people scattered all over the world.

In the story of Israel’s exile, there is an important chapter in Ukraine. There are pages in it that are bleak and full of suffering, but there are also pages that shine with a bright light. We cannot, and we must not forget the days in which we were powerless and defenseless, persecuted. Our blood was spilled like water in the pogroms, in violent oppression which culminated in the great tragedy that befell us in the 20th century. The Holocaust did not pass over the Jews of Ukraine, most of whom were brutally destroyed by the evil Nazi powers and their collaborators.

In 1999, during my first tenure as prime minister, I visited Babi Yar. I stood at that dreadful valley of slaughter in Kiev, the ravine where tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters were shot. Members of Knesset, I do not have the words to express the horror I felt in the face of the magnitude of the heinous massacre that took place in that place. Next year we will mark the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar atrocity, and I will work together with you, Mr. President, as you suggested, and I greatly appreciate your suggestions, to hold a special memorial ceremony for the victims.

My friend Petro, I commend you for your personal resolute fight against anti-Semitism and racism. In the last few decades, there is a large active Jewish community in Ukraine, one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. We appreciate the actions of your government to preserve its rights and to ensure its ongoing activities.

Whenever the anti-Semitic virus starts spreading, it attacks Jews first. If it is not eliminated, it spreads and poisons states and societies. This was clear to the fathers of Zionism, and for that reason they wanted to make a fundamental change in the life of our people – to establish a sovereign state, an independent state in our historic homeland.

I told you yesterday that the national revival began to spark at the end of the 19th century, and much of that spark was in Ukraine. Amid snow storms, bountiful rivers, virgin forests, a Hebrew culture sprouted from Ukraine’s fertile land, monumental works of literature, poetry, philosophy. We are very proud of men of letters such as Shalom Aleichem, Hayim Nahman Bialik and Shaul Tchernichovsky, and men of vision and action like Ahad Ha’am and Jabotinsky.

Jabotinsky was a spiritual teacher. He was my father’s great spiritual teacher with whom he worked side by side, and he is a constant source of inspiration for me. He founded the Jewish self-defense organization in Odessa in the beginning of the 20th century. He also admired the renowned Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Although he disagreed with some of the things Shevchenko wrote about the Jewish people, he had great respect for him. He wrote about him: “Shevchenko is a national poet, and this is his strength. […] He gave his own people and the world unequivocal proof that the Ukrainian soul is capable of reaching the lofty heights of original cultural creativity.”

Odessa, which I have already mentioned, enjoyed a cultural boom and active groups of intellectuals. It became known as the Gate of Zion, as the ships that brought the first waves of immigrants to the Land of Israel started their journey on the Black Sea from Odessa. Among these immigrants was the renowned historian Joseph Klausner, whom my late brother Yoni and I would visit every Shabbat in his house which was next to ours in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot.

You can see that many of our philosophers and other notable persons were Ukrainian, as were many of Israel’s presidents and prime ministers: Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Ephraim Katzir, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir. Hundreds of thousands of other Jews who were born in Ukraine came to our country throughout the years, and they are proud citizens on the State of Israel and serve as a living bridge between our countries. The vast majority of them came here because they identified with the miracle of the rebirth of the Jewish people, and they have made a clear impact on our lives in many areas. They have a strong desire to contribute to the State of Israel’s resilience, which is essential so that we can protect our lives, our very existence.

For many years we have been facing bitter enemies who refuse to recognize the existence of the State of Israel. They spread false incitement, commit murderous acts of terrorism. The instigators of terrorism get their direct inspiration from Islamic fanatics who have been flooding the Middle East in the past few years, and flooding the whole world. These fanatics want to take over this region as their first step, but then to take over other parts of the world – including countries on the coast of the Black Sea, but not only there.

There is a global fight raging against a power that wants to take the world back in time. These people are caught up in an idea. Their idea is to establish a caliphate now. They are willing to kill and to die for this idea which originated from one place, at the crossroads of what used to be Iraq and what used to be Syria. But it has proxies in Libya, and Paris and Yemen with the same idea. The idea is spread through communications technologies, but the idea is terrible and it contradicts everything that our peoples and our countries stand for.

Therefore, in the face of this barbarism which would take the world back to medievalism, we, Ukraine and Israel, as supporters of progress, together with other countries, must stand as one front. It threatens us all and the war against them must be shared by us all. The choice is clear: a mass blood bath and a clear danger to civilization, or a crushing victory of the enlightened powers and the promise of life. As a people that sanctifies life, we fight with all our might against those who want to crush life. This is the only way to ensure hope and peace.

Sir, we have peace accords with two of our neighboring countries, Egypt and Jordan, and we will gladly expand that circle, especially with our Palestinian neighbors. But terrorism and peace cannot live hand in hand. The Palestinian leadership must start educating its people for peace, stop encouraging terrorism, stop inciting and they must finally recognize the right of the Jewish nation state to exist, just like they ask us to recognize the right of a Palestinian nation state to exist. And of course, peace must be anchored in security arrangements on the ground – a true, lasting peace.

Mr. President. I know that Ukraine identifies with Israel and stands by its side, and we appreciate that. Our countries are close, not only geographically, I would like to remind you that Ukraine is only three hours’ flight from here. We are close in other aspects too – in our shared assessment of our needs for the present and the future. We welcome this. We thank you for your support of our positions in international fora, and I would like to express my hope, Mr. President, that a peaceful solution will soon be found to the conflict in your region. I know how important it is that you guarantee a future of peace and prosperity to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

You know of course, Mr. President, of the tens of thousands of Israelis who go to Ukraine every year, be it to visit family, as a journey to explore their roots and ancestry, or to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman at Uman and other Jewish sites. Ukraine is the birthplace of the Hasidic movement, which spread from there to the rest of Europe. And many visitors from Ukraine, mostly tourists and pilgrims, come to Israel every year. As we mentioned, removing the restrictions on visas, which my government agreed upon with the Ukrainian government, brought about great boost. It is felt now in particular, on the eve of the celebrations for the Christian New Year.

Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East… I’ll rephrase that: Israel is the only country in the Middle East which guarantees full freedom of worship to Christian believers, with no threats, with no conditions.

Honorable President, your visit confirms the close partnership that is growing between us. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov used to say: “The whole world is a narrow bridge,” but we are building many wide bridges between Israel and Ukraine, bridges of fraternity, bridges of friendship and hope. 

I welcome you and the distinguished delegation accompanying you from Ukraine. On behalf of all Israel’s citizens – thank you.

Welcome to Jerusalem.