Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke Thursday evening with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the continuation of Israeli aid to Ukraine, including to refugees staying in the country, and about continued aid for the development of civil defense systems – and he also discussed the necessity to ensure as much as possible the safe arrival of worshipers to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, "in order to ensure their freedom of worship.'
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush welcomed the conversation and thanked the prime minister for responding to his request regarding discussing with Zelensky the arrival of worshipers to Uman.
"This is an important move to improve relations between the states and peoples. I congratulate Netanyahu for joining the effort to help arrange the travel of tens of thousands of Israelis to Rosh Hashanah prayers, which, God willing, will prevent a crisis at the borders of Ukraine." He added: "Thanks to the joint activity with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, we hope that we will be able to facilitate the passage through Moldova, Poland and Hungary, with whom we reached arrangements on border activities."
On Wednesday, a senior Ukrainian official said that it was Netanyahu who initiated the conversation with Zelensky, apparently due to the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel and the request by Porush, who called for his urgent intervention to ensure the arrival of the Hasidim to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. "In the absence of a change in the discussion, I will not be able to carry out the task assigned to me – and the failure will be seen as a failure of the government," Porush said in a letter he sent to Netanyahu on Monday.
This is the first telephone conversation between Netanyahu and Zelensky in nine months, against the backdrop of great frustration and anger from the Ukrainian side toward the Israeli government. Ukrainians are disappointed that Netanyahu is the only Western leader besides Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has not visited Kyiv.
Senior Ukrainian officials have said that the Israeli argument that Netanyahu is not coming for security reasons "does not hold water," given that all the leaders of the free world have done so – including US President Joe Biden. The Ukrainians are angry with Israel for what they call a "failure to fulfill commitments" of Foreign Minister Cohen during his visit to Kiev, the decision not to supply defense systems, the treatment of citizens arriving in Israel - and the deportation of thousands of them from the country.
Earlier this week, in the shadow of the diplomatic tensions with Kyiv and its threat to cancel the visa exemption for Israelis, the Population and Immigration Authority announced that it will ease the treatment of Ukrainian citizens arriving in Israel. Interior Minister Moshe Arbel decided to extend the validity of the visas of Ukrainians who are staying in Israel and cannot return until January 31, 2024.
The Population and Immigration Authority's decision was announced a day after Ukraine made it clear to the Israeli government that it expects reciprocity for incoming citizens - just as Israel wants Ukraine to take care of visitors who come to Uman on Rosh Hashanah, so Ukraine expects Israel to stop deporting its citizens.