Join our email list

Ukraine’s Aliyah of Despair

The following is a transcript of Episode 45 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Monday, March 7th, 2022. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is Jewish memory and the crisis in Ukraine. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. 

In our previous podcast, we spoke of the difficult challenges facing Israel in determining its policy on Ukraine. On the one hand, there’s widespread sympathy for Ukraine, both in the public at large and within the government. On the other hand, because of Russia’s military presence in Syria, and Israel’s frequent attacks against Iranian forces based in Syria, there is the perceived Israeli need to placate pew, and so downplay it’s sympathy for Ukraine. Ukrainian president Zelensky expresses his disappointment with Prime Minister Bennett, noting pointedly that Bennett is not draping himself in the Ukrainian flag. Maybe even referencing some people at the Kotel, praying, where their tallis was the Ukrainian flag. This week, we’ll be focusing on the Jewish, moral, and historical dimension of the war in Ukraine.

Why has this conflict touched so many of us so deeply, and what’s the deep nerve that it has activated, in many ways, more than many other tragedies? Is it because Ukraine’s new national hero is its Jewish president? Is it because of the affinity and the number of Ukrainian citizens who made aliyah and live in our midst? Is it because of our Holocaust memories? Is the Holocaust a useful framework for relating to the agony of Ukraine? Are Holocaust analogies appropriate? These and others are some of the issues that we are going to focus on today. 

Yossi. Nice to be with you again.

Yossi: Good to be with you. 

Donniel: Let’s go straight in. Um, it’s, it’s a heavy time. When we last spoke the war had just begun and it really, the two of us were trying to calibrate our emotions and our feelings. Or as you said to me, I was trying to calibrate my conceptual frameworks. A week has passed and the humanitarian crisis has grown exponentially. Just looking at the pictures of the bombing and the devastation and the human tragedy. A week has passed, and the Western world’s economic sanctions seem to be more serious and comprehensive than we thought initially a week ago. 

Yet despite that, Putin is still continuing as onslaught into the cities of Ukraine and declaring openly, you know, um, I’ll stop when you, uh, surrender, and if not, Ukraine is going to cease to be, and doesn’t seem to be profoundly moved yet, um, certainly not inhibited by these sanctions. 

A week later, let’s start with, where are you today? And then if you could reflect on, where do you think as, as Jews, do you think Israel’s doing enough? What do you think we should be doing?

Yossi: Well, Donniel, you know, you, framed this conversation through Jewish memory and I’m actually finding myself returning to a very personal memory, of the year 1989, which was when communism fell in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. I spent that year in Eastern Europe reporting on the collapse of communism.

I was in Berlin when the wall fell, in Poland, when solidarity took over. When two years later, when communism fell in the Soviet Union, I flew to Kiev and I was in Ukraine for that extraordinary transition. And the sadness that I’m feeling now is in direct proportion to the joy and the hope that I felt then. I was watching history unfold.

I felt personally that I was being, in some sense, freed from the burden of Holocaust memory that had so much defined, and to some extent, distorted my life, coming from a survivor family. And that was really the moment when I began to step out of the shadow of the Shoah and then the big aliyah coming from the Soviet Union.

And I worked in those years, in Israel, as a journalist reporting on the aliyah, it was my beat. And now here we are, the post 1989 era is over. That’s what I feel in the most visceral way that this moment is, and yes, we’re experiencing another wave of aliyah from Ukraine, maybe from Russia.

Uh, and it might be big. It might be tens of thousands, might be hundreds of thousands, but in some ways it’s the dark image of the early nineties. That time of hope, this is an aliyah of despair. And so I’m feeling the shattering of this tremendous moment of hope that meant so much to me personally. And so that’s the memory that I’m in right now. 

Donniel: It’s really interesting. Can we stop here for a second, Yossi, because I was very moved by your language of an aliyah of despair. Not a lot of people are making that distinction between an aliyah of hope and an aliyah of despair. 

You know, in many ways, Israel only envisioned an aliyah of despair. That’s what Israel is for. Israel was to save the Jews, because it’s a despair of the world outside of Israel. And yet you’re right. Much of the aliyah of the nineties and the smaller aliyah from America and Canada, is an aliyah hope. It was an aliyah of the ushering in of a new era. An aliyah of despair, in a certain sense, is the aliyah that we know, at least ideologically, the best, but, but it doesn’t feel the same. 

Yossi: Yeah, no, you’re right. And you know, you know, the country is so comfortable with an emergency aliyah and look, I don’t minimize the significance of it. Thank God. You know, it really is one of those moments again, where you can say thank God for the state of Israel, but, uh, this isn’t the aliyah that we dreamed of since the nineties.

Donniel: It’ll be interesting to see whether the average Israeli is nicer to the Olim who come during an aliyah of despair, than the aliyah of hope, the hope, you know, it’s self-interest, it’s different. 

Yossi: I saw, I saw a great tweet saying, uh, welcome, uh, Ukrainian immigrants. You are about to make the transition from being dirty Jews to dirty Russians. Because that’s what we call all the Jews who come from there. Anyway.

Donniel: So I very much appreciate where you are. Let’s transition a little bit. And from where you are, using your aliyah of despair and this reality, as a Jew do you feel Israel is doing what it should be doing? 

Yossi: I very much identify with the government’s dilemma. Uh, as you know, the Iran deal has been central for me in these last years, it’s been central for the way I see this extended moment for Israel, and we are about to witness the return to what apparently will be an even worse deal, which will only further constrain our maneuverability, and our dependence on Putin. 

So I deeply feel the limits of this government. And looking at Bennett, I think he’s trying to make the best of an impossible situation. He, I was moved by his attempt to mediate, regardless of whether something comes of it. It’s an expression that we have to do something as a Jewish state.

So in that sense, I feel that the government is acting within the limits of what is possible. With one major exception. And that is the way we’ve been treating non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees who are coming to seek asylum. And that is the scandal of this moment for Israel. The good news is that it’s provoking a major debate in the society.

And my sense is that the government is going to adjust accordingly. I don’t think that this scandalous policy is going to continue. But it’s not good enough for us to say we’re accepting Olim, Jewish immigrants, and that absolves us from accepting refugees. I do think that there’s room for a public debate about, in what context we accept the asylum seekers.

Do we give them temporary asylum until they can move on? I think there are legitimate parameters here for us to negotiate with ourselves, but there is no room for a Jewish state to be turning away refugees who knock on our door. 

Where are you at in all of this, Donniel?

Donniel: Um, it’s been a hard week. If you remember last week I was sad. This week, I’m between angry and embarrassed. When I see Putin and I see the, and I’m using this word intentionally, the onslaught into Ukraine,

I don’t think of the Holocaust, I think of Nazi Germany. I’m not talking about the attack against the Jews. I’m talking about the beginning of Nazism and its takeover of Europe. You know, we look at the great evil, the only one competing against Hitler in our upbringing was Chamberlain. You remember, like that deal, the cowardliness.

I feel that very deeply down. I feel that he could get away with it because we’re letting him get away with it. And I find that our response, I’m talking as a Jew and as Israeli, to be completely inadequate. And the response of the world to be completely inadequate. Maybe the economic sanctions will work in another three weeks, four weeks.

When is it that it’s going to be enough? I don’t know, but you know what’s going to happen in the next three to four weeks? You know, we, who were soldiers in the Israeli army, we learned about Russian military doctrine, because the Syrians fought according to that doctrine. And we know the Syrian system, we know the Russian system, they don’t care about casualties.

The issue is how much death they could cause until the other side breaks. Do I think that Putin is concerned about his soldiers? No. He now has the time, and we all know also how central artillery is to his pro. They’re just going to mash, there, you’re looking at the cities, it’s, you know, we’re talking about distinguishing civilian casualty, you know, all these theories about morality, it’s it’s out in the gar- it’s gone. He’s just destroying. What will be left of Ukraine? How many people will die? A million and a half refugees, then another three it’s like, it’s, the proportions that we’re talking about are just immense.

And he, you look at him and you feel that you’re in the presence of evil and the world doesn’t know how to deal with evil at that level. They’re trying to scare him. Okay. It’s all about ego. He’ll go down. The amount of pain that will happen, before anything changes, Yossi, is just too great. And seeing the world’s inadequacy and seeing our inadequacy, is embarrassing, frankly.

And you know what’s embarrassing, it goes back to when you spoke about Iran. We have something to lose right now. We have something to lose. When you’re powerless, you have nothing to lose. You know, you can go, you can join the partisans, you know, what do you do. As a country, we have something to lose. 

You know, and I go back and all our moral accusations against the world, why didn’t you attack? Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you do this? You know, what courage does it take of a leader to decide to do something when you have something to lose? And I know Israel can’t militarily do things in this power imbalance, because we don’t have a Western coalition which is willing to do something to the extent that we’re really willing to lose. 

A no fly zone. You know, we’re letting, it’s clear, we tell you, we tell the, Putin, you don’t have to worry. The issue is not, you don’t have to worry about firing against NATO or us. We have to worry, against, fighting against you. The whole balance, the whole conversation is off, Yossi. 

Yossi: So what would you suggest, Donniel? Would you want to see Israel risk its most basic interests to shame the rest of the world into action. Is that what you would want us to do? 

Donniel: I don’t think we could do anything alone. Sharansky wrote a great article, today, in the Wall Street Journal, about what happens when appeasement becomes a standard, and then it affects you. Western appeasement, against chemical weapons, and again, it’s been going on for so long, in Syria and Crimea, it’s just, and then you turn around and you want to say it’s enough and you realize it’s just gone on so long. And he has a very strong, moral voice. So it’s very hard right now. I don’t want us to be alone, but I’m embarrassed that I can’t do more, but I do believe that Israel should have been much clearer and taken a much clearer moral stance on its condemnation.

Now, should we send in arms? If the rest of the world is sending in arms, we should send in arms. I wish the world would institute a no fly zone. Again, it takes great courage from leadership to do that, because we have what to lose and it’s dangerous, but the notion that we have to worry about Putin and Putin doesn’t have to worry about anybody else, that frankly, Yossi, is, that’s the end. That’s, this is 1930s all over again. 

Yossi: Donniel, look, I, I.

Donniel: Here. You know, I, I need more room. I want Poland. I, you know, everybody has to worry about, now, he doesn’t have to worry about anything. He just has to worry about his banks. And his oligarchs have to worry about their ships.

Yossi: I, I wanna understand your position. I wanna push you a little bit here. Because what I hear from you, on the one hand, is shame that we’re not taking more of an initiative. And on the other hand, a sad recognition that we can’t be ahead of the pack. We have too much at stake here.

Am I right, that your position is, we should be in the middle of a more energized pack, but it isn’t our job. It’s not the job of the state of Israel to lead the charge.

Donniel: I’m embarrassed by that, but yes, because when you have what to lose, and having to come to terms with the lack of power, I agree with you, but the world is now sending weapons. They are. I think we should be standing much more clearly with Ukraine.

And if there’s a risk about Syria, we’ll have to meet that risk at that time. 

Yossi: So here, so here we have a good disagreement. I think that our situation,

Donniel: Yossi, I’ve always told you that I’m enough of a pluralist to let you be wrong. Right. 

Yossi: So, Donniel, I’ve been learning my pluralism from you and I’m reciprocating. So, uh, so we’re good. My sense here really is that with the Iran deal imminent, which is going to mean an intensification of our activity in Syria. We are in an even more delicate situation. We have an enormous amount to lose. 

I think we should be upgrading our humanitarian aid. We sent 10 tons, let’s send 50 tons of humanitarian aid. Let’s send more doctors. We have sent some doctors. Let’s have a major effort here. But it needs to stay on the humanitarian level for very simple reasons. We could find ourselves literally in a shooting war with Putin any moment, and he can turn his substantial military presence on our border against us. Whatever symbolic gain we would contribute to the Ukraine war effort by providing our version of weaponry, uh, it may make us feel good. We’ll feel moral. We’re part of the international community, but the price that we’ll pay, very few countries would find themselves in that situation.

Donniel: I appreciate, Yossi, I, again, want to refine it, you know, I, uh, I’m enough of a pluralist to say that it’s possible that you’re right. Um, I hear you Yossi. I hear you, but I don’t like it. Uh, you know, Zelensky is literally, speaks straight to my soul, as Jew to Jew, and says, you know, where were you? 

You know the place of the Holocaust in my upbringing. The notion of the silence of the world in face of evil. The Holocaust has also a very strong universal dimension, separate from the particular Jewish story. The particular Jewish story is not the motivating issue right now.

That moment where the world was tested and it took us years to actually step up. And very often, only when our own personal interests were more threatened, there was a coalition of personal interests. I think that’s not who we should be as a Jew. I think we have to take risks. Now, whether it’s that or whether it’s being clear in our condemnations, where we stand. So I feel that this is a moment where history is going to judge countries. 

And somehow, denying Russia access to SWIFT, as devastating as that might be, is just not enough. But either way, where we do agree, and maybe I would feel better here if we were so much clearer and unequivocal about our support for Ukraine, our assistance to Ukrainians, our opening of our borders. Again, you know, and I know, that one of the great weaknesses in the United Nations’ refugee charter is the fact that there is no proportionality.

I think sitting down and saying, yes, the size of Israel, you know, everybody else is taking per capita twenty-five thousand? Double it. We could take in 50. Could we take in 50,000 Ukrainians now? The answer is absolutely yes. Come up with a number and say, and lead, take them. These are our 50,000, take double what Germany, Canada, Holland, take more than, double, be really clear. 

And instead, Yossi, what I hear, and I want your feelings about this. There’s so much conversation about aliyah, it deeply upsets me right now. We should be worrying about Ukraines croix Ukraines. And of course we have to accept aliyah. Of course that’s an issue. But that’s, we do all the time, but that that’s the focus now, of this and this move, and we’re, I think there’s something bigger going on in history now, Yossi. 

And I think we’re going to be challenged to ask, are you standing up to this historic moment? That Jew looks after Jew, is a given. Are we standing up as Jews and as a country, as part of the nations of the world? Cause that’s what Zionism was about. It was about giving the Jewish people a nation, so that we’ll be a nation amongst the nations. And I think here we’re falling short.

Yossi: We need to recognize that this might be one of those moments in Israel’s history when we will be struggling to cope with a major aliyah inundation. So I don’t take this aliyah moment for granted. I think that, uh, this really might require much of our energy and resources. Uh, I, I don’t know if it’s going to approach the dimensions of the early nineties. 

But in the early nineties we were overwhelmed. And so let’s not minimize the challenges that we’re facing with aliyah. Its not something to take for granted. So that’s one thing.

Donniel: I agree, but can we not maximize it either? Because in the nineties we were 3 million people taking in a million and now we’re 9 million with 2 – 300. So let’s not maximize it. 

Yossi: Fair. Okay. That’s fair. In terms of taking in, I, I like the idea of saying we are ready to take X number of refugees, but where Israel is different from other countries, say Germany, Germany or Poland will take in refugees. And the tacit understanding is that they’re going to remain and they’ll be given citizenship.

That’s, it’s granting asylum, rather than temporary refuge. I think that we need to grant temporary refuge. And that needs to be the condition, for all kinds of reasons. Practical, also in terms of what, Israeli society can bear. We are challenged to the limit in terms of our ability to manage our diversity. 

I see what’s happening as soon as we have intense political debates, the Likud against the government, immediately, the Russians come in, you know, dirty Russians. Uh, the racism comes in, the tensions of the ingathering that accumulate. They never go away. One aliyah accumulates its own traumas and tensions. I don’t think that this society can stretch itself to the point where we can take large numbers of non Jews on a permanent basis. 

Donniel: I hear you, Yos. You know what I feel at this moment. And then, you know, I’ll give myself the prerogative of the last word, unless you want it. 

Yossi: Take it. 

Donniel: And then we’ll take a break, but. I feel at this moment, the world order is being changed. We are in the midst of a fight between a democratic world in which human rights prevail, in which rights of sovereignty, the right of countries to continue and to determine their own future, is on one side, and an evil, truly an evil empire, on the other side, an evil man, who’s willing to cross any lines.

Again, I want to go back to Sharansky because I was moved by what he wrote. When you appease evil, it just grows. For me, Israel is so much a country of imagination. And I know there’s a challenge to how do you create a real country in the midst of these aspirations. 

But I think what Israel is about is pushing what’s possible for the sake of your values. And I feel we’re playing it too safe right now. Lead. So I felt good like you did. Bennett, you know what, kol hakavod, he at least finally said we have a moral responsibility, something I just saw, you know, he mentioned something.

I think Israel is not Israel if it doesn’t lead with some of these moral aspirations. And here’s a moment where I believe both Israelis and world Jewry could get behind an Israel with imagination, which is why Zionism is so important. It’s why sovereignty and nationalism is so important. Because you have an ability to solve problems and to deal with issues on a global level.

This is what we wanted to be as Jews. And I feel that we have to go for it on another. Without military or not. Okay. I could debate that, but then I feel bad that I’m calling for the world to do something and I’m cowarding on the side. That just, doesn’t feel right to me either, but I think something much more clear has to be put forth. The moral consequences of it have to be put forth. And even though it costs us something, cause that’s exactly, your morality is tested, not when it doesn’t cost you anything, when you’re just, you know, an armchair moral critic. What are you willing to pay? 

That’s what we asked the world. That’s what we demanded in the thirties and the forties. Where are you? And they said, you know, you want me to fight Germany? Do you know what the consequence? Okay, I’ll talk about it another year. Another. This is the moment. And I want Israel, whether it leads the coalition on a military level or whether it just participates or leads in a moral voice, I believe that’s what Israel should be doing.

Let’s take a break for a minute or two. And, when we come back, Elana will join us.

Hi, Elana. So, we live in such different universes. What are you feeling and what Jewish sources would you like to share with us after you share with us what you’re feeling? 

Elana: Honestly, the refrain in my head is just. Realpolitik is just devastating. It’s um, it’s a devastating part of life. And it does take me back to questions of why people didn’t engage to help Jews during the Holocaust in a more concerted effort. And it also makes me see some of the real dangers that would be involved in doing such a thing. And it’s, um, it’s devastating.

Realpolitik is one thing when you can’t watch it in real time and you can’t see it and you get a message from the field and you find out somebody told somebody who told somebody, or you got a letter from somebody. We’re actually watching it.

And that is, um, it’s really damning actually to watch that. I would say that the other thing that really hits me here is just how many Jewish narratives are engaged here. You have this Christian country being led by a Jew. I mean, his speech yesterday, I watched it, he said, it’s Forgiveness Sunday. I’m like, what’s Forgiveness Sunday. It’s pre Lent, you know, and he’s this Jew talking about this, and then you have Babyn Yar and what the Ukrainians did to us in our history and what they did to help the Nazis.

But now Putin’s conversation about De-Nazifying the Ukraine, and what the Soviets did to us. I remember, protesting to get Jews out of Soviet re. There’s so many Jewish stories. Let alone Blinken, who’s a Jew and child of Holocaust survivors. Like the stories are just all mashing into each other and there’s something personal about it a lot of other, geopolitical issues don’t feel that way for me as an Ashkenazi Jew. So that’s sort of where I’m sitting and at the same time, realpolitik is not a small matter. It’s really not a small matter. So the Torah that I want to bring in is a Torah of a few different values that I think stand against each other, stand in tension with each other.

And I also want to say that I think that reasonable people can disagree and it’s bad to say that, it feels bad to say that, but I do think that reasonable people can disagree as to how you put these values into action. 

Donniel: By the way Elana, I think the foundation of iEngage, and the foundation of all of our conversation and that’s why I love being with the two of you, I hope you love being with me, um, I was opening that up for you, is that I think what we live by all of us, and the Torah we want to teach, is an understanding that reasonable people can disagree. That for the serious issues of our life, there isn’t one correct, one moral way to go. And I think that’s why we want to talk. Because reasonable people could disagree and what’s beautiful is reasonable people could also learn from other reasonable people. So now Elana, teach us. 

Elana: Yeah, it’s just, let’s admit that it’s really difficult to say that when the stakes are so high on all sides. That’s, really, where I’m coming from. So the first value I want to put on the table is, uh, the question of how much you sacrifice for someone else. 

You know, there are interesting Talmudic passages, but I actually find that two responsa, uh, it’d be really interesting on this score, cause they actually disagree with each other. Both of the people who I’m going to be quoting here were real luminaries and leaders of their generations.

The first one which is from the early 16th century is from Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Zimra, okay, also known as the Radbaz. If the ruler says to a Jew, allow me to cut off one of your limbs that’s not necessary for life, or I’ll kill your fellow Jew. Some say that one is obligated to allow the ruler to cut off the limb because it won’t cause death. And you, says the Radbaz to his writer, you wanted to know whether to depend on this perspective. And what he says is, you know, it’s above and beyond to be able to do something like that, where you endanger yourself to save someone else.

But he says there is a problem even saying that that’s a good thing to do. By removing the limb, even though the limb itself is unnecessary for life, perhaps the victim will lose much blood. And will therefore die. And who says, and this comes right from the Talmud, who says that your friend’s blood is redder.

Maybe your blood is redder. And you know, it’s interesting, he’s not talking about a situation where we have power, right? He’s specifically talking about a situation where we don’t have power, but I see the analogy where somebody says, I’m telling you, if you want to help the Ukrainians, you’re going to have to cut off a limb. Is that going to be existential danger to you? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s the gamble. 

Donniel: What’s the ruling?

Elana: Oh, his ruling is, he says, I see no reason for saying that it’s a law to do this, but doing it manifests the quality of piety. But if there is a risk that sacrificing the limb will result in death, then you are being a pious fool, a hasid shoteh, because avoiding your own death takes precedence over avoiding someone else’s death. Right? So that’s serious words, right? The Radbaz is basically saying, look, I’d love to say, go jump into a burning building to save someone. And in this situation he’s saying, I don’t want you to be a pious fool. Don’t be a pious fool. 

Donniel: But he’s also saying Elana, not only don’t be a pious fool. He’s also saying that the standard of piety demands of you to be willing to sacrifice a limb. 

Elana: How did I know that that’s what you would focus on?

Donniel: You told me, it’s not, I didn’t bring the source. 

Elana: No, you’re right. You’re right. There’s two levels here. That’s not true. There’s three levels. It says I can’t force you to sacrifice a limb to save someone else. That’s level one. 

Level two. It would be very pious to do that. Level three, if you’re so pious that you’re going to kill yourself for someone else, that’s not piety anymore. That’s not piety anymore. That’s being a fool. And I do hear that a little bit in the conversation that the two of you were having before that Yossi’s kind of taking the, we don’t want to be pious fools element, and Donniel, you’re trying to focus on the, but aren’t we willing to give at least a limb. 

Okay. I want to do the next, I mean, because there’s more to go. There’s always more to go. Okay. 

Donniel: Fair enough. We’ll sit. We’ll sit with this. 

Elana: Still on this question of how much do you sacrifice. 

Exactly. Let’s sit with it. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg. Okay. Mid 20th century, Israel, right. Didn’t start off there, but Israel and he’s talking about war. He’s not talking about, you know, where Jews are persecuted and somebody says I’m gonna cut off your limb. 

Must or may a soldier endanger themselves to save his fellow soldier from danger. For example, if someone’s wounded and exposed on an open battlefield. So he’s closer, he’s talking about war, he’s closer. He says upon investigation, it seems that war is different than non war situations.

And just as war itself is permissible for its own reasons and goals. And it endangers many people. Likewise, one of its rules is that every person on the battlefield must be willing to give up their life to save their fellow from the danger caused by war. Just as it is impossible to apply what is permitted in war to another arena, likewise, it is impossible to apply what is forbidden in another arena to the laws of war, and just as the rule and you shall live by them, does not apply in war, neither does the rule, your life takes precedence. Rather everyone must sacrifice their life to save their fellow. And this becomes part of the laws of the community and the conduct of a state. 

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow right? He’s not giving you, it’s a pious thing to do. He’s not giving you, well, I can’t force you to do this. He’s not giving, don’t be a pious fool. He’s saying if this is one of yours and to me, that’s the if, right? If this is one of yours, it’s your fellow soldier on your same side, then you have to endanger yourself. But let’s be clear. And I’m trying to be honest. This is a situation where you have a soldier in the field saving another soldier. Is that the same as risking a country’s existential life to help another country?

Donniel: I think part of the change and I love the two sources and I love also the tension between them, because when a country decides, it’s very rarely the existence or nonexistence of the country. It’s always what price you’re gonna pay. 

And I know it’s also so easy for me to sit here and for all of us to be the prime minister, who has to decide and know that some people will die as a result of it. There’s an enormity to that. And that’s why you’re not giving a ruling. What you’re saying is, ladies and gentlemen, here, here are the values. These are the things you have to think about. And, it doesn’t leave you confused. It just leaves you troubled because as you said, the reason why decent people could disagree is because we’re trying to balance these criteria, knowing that the Radbaz is very powerful, but is that really applicable to situations of war and nations? 

Elana: Right. That’s really the question. Look, I want to add one more thing. I want to think about ecosystems. I mean, when I saw where Bennett shuttled over the weekend. He shuttled to three countries over the weekend. There has to be an ecosystem in which each country is playing its part to take this guy down. To take Putin down or to end this invasion.

I think there’s a separate question, which is, what role does Israel play within that ecosystem? That may be different from the role that America plays, that may be different from the role that Germany plays, that may be different from the role that the Baltic States play. Right. Meaning, I think that’s also a relevant question. Because if Israel comes out as the place where negotiations can happen between the two countries, then it’s a big deal.

And I think sometimes, only looking at it through the question of what should Israel do as a solitary actor is actually missing the fact that we need a Western front against what’s happening here. And Israel is in a unique position that I think Bennett is trying to leverage, as hard as that is, and as much as he has to hold his nose while he does it. 

Donniel: I hear you, Elana. 

Elana: And I want to make sure we put that on the table, because that’s not reflected in these sources.

Donniel: Correct. It’s a big deal. Elana, thanks, really, fascinating. I feel troubled by the sources. And that’s maybe exactly what you wanted to achieve and I very much appreciate it. Yossi, last words before conclude for today? 

Yossi: I’m still mulling over the passion of your anguish, which I deeply respect, and to some extent share. I don’t go long with Holocaust analogies. We’ve had this conversation before. But I think that it is fair to invoke a world war II analogy. There is an echo of a Nazi invasion of European countries and the brutality of the invasion. 

I hear your biggest challenge to me, in what you said about this being a turning point in world history. This is one of those moments and I feel that too. The problem is, that this happens to coincide with what seems to be a turning point in the Iran denouement as well.

If they really are about to sign an even worse deal than 2015, by all indications, that’s, what’s coming as early as this week, then what we have is a convergence of moral anguish and deep security anxiety. I wouldn’t want to be Bennett, right now. But being a sovereign people means that we’re responsible both for our soul, the Jewish soul and the Jewish body. And I think that for me, the takeaway of this conversation is not to make light of the dilemmas that we face. And as usual, it’s always complicated here. I mean, I’m not saying that to absolve us, but that’s the context in which we need to deal with this issue. And I’m very grateful to both of you for providing that context. 

Donniel: Thank you Yossi. Thank you Elana. For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M. Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. 

To find them and to learn more about Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online We want to know what you think about the show, you can rate it and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at, [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you in two weeks and thank you very much for listening. And I hope that the next two weeks will not be as devastating as it seems that they’re going to be. 

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

More on
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics