Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to hold an important meeting on Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – a meeting which officials aren’t certain will go as well as the prime minister’s other scheduled meetings with heads of state during his visit to the United States.
Netanyahu's meeting with Zelensky will mark the first time an Israeli prime minister has met with the president of Ukraine since the outbreak of war with Russia. Zelensky hopes for good news from Netanyahu regarding the Ukrainian request for anti-air defense systems to counter Iranian drones. He also wants Netanyahu’s commitment to head for a visit to Ukraine as a show of solidarity with the country.
Netanyahu is currently the only Western leader, apart from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who hasn’t visited Kyiv. Until now, the Prime Minister's Office has avoided approving the visit due to security considerations, but the Ukrainians argue that if U.S. President Joe Biden visited the country, there’s no reason why Netanyahu shouldn’t as well. The Foreign Ministry also strongly recommended that Netanyahu carry out this visit.
Since the outbreak of the war, Ukraine's Jewish president criticized Israel several times. Just last week, when hosting rabbis and Chabad envoys, Zelensky criticized Netanyahu, saying: "Netanyahu called me and asked for my help to reach Uman. He told me there were bomb shelters for only 11,000 people and 30,000 pilgrims were expected to arrive. I told him that if Israel would send us the missile defense system, it would help protect his citizens.”
During the same meeting, Zelensky also added: "The responsibility for the safety of tens of thousands of Jews who come to pray at Uman during the Jewish year, is on the Israeli government that does not do enough."
In June, after Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Ukrainian president a “disgrace" to the Jewish people, Zelensky's head of office, Andriy Yermak, criticized Israel's silence to Putin’s words, saying "Putin attacked a Jewish president as means for attacking other Jews. I don't understand why Israel isn’t responding. We will never forget that we and Israel have the same enemies, but the Israeli government and politicians fail to understand that."
In February, during a press conference marking one year since the Russian invasion, Zelensky expressed his hope that Israel would choose a side in the war. "I really want them to be more than mediators. I want them to choose a side – the Ukrainian one," he said. "As this war has gone on for a long time, I expect Israel’s support. Not just from its public, but also its government."
In March 2022, less than a month after the invasion began, Zelensky condemned Israel's decision not to provide Ukraine with military equipment. "In Israel, everybody knows well that the Iron Dome missile defense system is the best. Why can’t you provide us with weapons? Why hasn't Israel imposed serious sanctions on Russia?" he said in a speech addressed to Knesset members via Zoom.