Mark Steyn: Israel and Ukraine, each fighting against the forces of terror and chaos

Mark Steyn, National Post | July 23, 2014

The purpose of the Ukranian "separatist" movement is not to build a country but to use the territory they hold to harass and terrorize and weaken the Ukrainian state. Now who does that sound like?

The two big international headlines of the moment are the downing of the Malaysian jet over Ukraine and Israel’s incursion into Gaza. On the face of it, these two stories don’t have much in common, but they are in fact part of the same story. To know Israel it helps to know Ukraine, and to know Ukraine it helps to know Israel.

This weekend will mark the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets re-took the city of Lviv (or Lvov, or Lemberg, according to taste) in western Ukraine, and ended a three-year German occupation. Before the Germans arrived, there were well over 100,000 Jews in the city and just shy of 50 synagogues. On July 26th 1944, when the Soviets returned, there were a couple of hundred Jews left.

Lviv had been, variously, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Habsburg, Soviet — but always, across the centuries, Jewish. All gone.

[AP Photo/Maria Danilova: In this Oct. 2012 photo, a man carrying a child walks past an abandoned Synagogue on the Jewish cemetery in Chernivtsi.]

Same with any number of Ukrainian cities. Chernivtsi, or Czernowitz, was once known as “Jerusalem on the Prut.” There were 50,000 Jews out of a population of approximately 100,000, and they dominated the city’s commercial life. “There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows,” wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell in 1937, when it was part of the Kingdom of Roumania. “The entire commerce of the place is in the hands of the Jews. Yiddish is spoken here more than German.” Not anymore. Today, the city’s population is over a quarter of a million, but only 2,000 are Jews.

There are cities like Lviv or Chernivtsi all over the world, where within living memory the streets were full of Jews — people went to school with Jews, lived next door to Jews, accompanied their mothers as they shopped from Jews. And now there are no Jews. In his what-if? novel Fatherland, Robert Harris captures very well the silence that settles in such communities: no one ever asks, “Do you remember the such-and-such family across the street?” — or what happened to them. Just as, a few years hence, everyone in Sarcelles, France will agree not to ask whatever happened to a Jewish-owned pharmacy, set ablaze during a “pro-Palestinian” protest last weekend.

Which brings us to the tiny Jewish state built in a sliver of a minority of the total land of the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel is dedicated to the proposition that there should be one place on Earth where what happened to the Jews in Lviv and Chernivtsi and Baghdad (once the second largest Jewish city in the world) and Tripoli (which was once 40% Jewish) and all over the map will not happen here.

Hamas, by contrast, is committed to the proposition that what happened to the Jews of Lviv should happen here, too.

But it works the other way round: To know Ukraine it helps to know Israel. The least worst explanation for what happened to MH17 is that “pro-Russian separatists” mistook it for a Ukrainian military transport and blew it out of the sky: A horrible accident in the fog of war. If that was the agreed storyline, you’d be anxious to make yourself respectable again in the eyes of the world as quickly as possible: You’d seal off the crash site until the international investigators and representatives of the governments who’d lost citizens could get there and retrieve the black boxes and recover the bodies. Instead, the “separatists” immediately refused to allow anybody near the site and began looting and defiling the bodies, stealing cash and credit cards and trophies and leaving what’s left decomposing out in a field for anyone with a cellphone to shoot souvenir snaps of. As Greg Gutfeld says, “That field is no longer a war zone. It is an international crime scene.”

Why? Why would you do this? Why, having “accidentally” shot down a passenger jet, would you then deliberately desecrate and dishonour the dead?

Well, here’s Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko on CNN, in his first international interview since the atrocity: “Those armed in eastern Ukraine should not be referred to as ‘separatists,’ he insisted. ‘There are no separatists there. They are terrorists.’”

He’s right. The word “separatists” conjures something like the Parti Québécois or East Timor or South Sudan. But these guys have no interest in running a state. They’re Putin’s goons acting on direct orders from Moscow: It was, for example, almost certainly a Russian dispatched by the Kremlin who actually shot down the Malaysian jet since firing these missiles requires a degree of skill the locals don’t have. The purpose of this “separatist” movement is not to build a country but to use the territory they hold to harass and terrorize and weaken the Ukrainian state.

Now who does that sound like? The “Palestinian Authority” is not a fully sovereign nation but it holds roughly the powers the Irish Free State had in 1922. Many aspects of that settlement were obnoxious to southern Ireland’s “separatists” — the oath of allegiance to the King, the viceroy, their status as British subjects, the Royal Navy ports — but they nevertheless got on with building an Irish nation. Which is to say, boring stuff like fiscal policy and the education ministry and the department of public works.

Nobody in the “government” of Gaza wants to do that. They were left a lot of great infrastructure and viable businesses when the Israelis withdrew — and they let it all die. They were bequeathed 3,000 greenhouses that grew flowers and fruit for export — and they demolished them. Oh, sure, there’s still work to be found in Gaza: They’re big customers of construction materials, but they don’t use them to build factories or schools or tourist hotels, only a network of state-of-the-art concrete tunnels under the border with Israel, so they can sneak in and kill Jews. In the Sixties and Seventies, many anti-colonial movements used terrorism to advance their nationalist goals. Hamas uses nationalism to advance its terrorist goals.

Likewise, the forces Putin has loosed in eastern Ukraine: They’re a terrorist movement masquerading as “separatists”. And Putin is to these guys as Iran is to Hamas. That’s to say, he could make the desecration of the MH17 site end — with one phone call.

And yet he chose not to. Because whatever misgivings he had about what his killers had done were quickly allayed by the feeble passivity of Obama’s response, and the mulligans and do-overs President Fundraiser has had to take in the days since. On Friday, Obama was all about “internationalizing” the situation — an “Asian plane” had come down on “European soil” — i.e., it’s the world’s problem. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the dead are citizens of the core West — 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, plus Brits, Germans, Americans and a Canadian. Were Obama willing to accept the role, he would have spoken to Putin as “the leader of the free world” and said that, having conferred with the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom, etc, he wanted to let him know an investigatory team representing the countries of those murdered was en route and expected full access to a properly preserved debris scene.

But Obama doesn’t believe in “the free world” and certainly not in America as “leader” of it. And so Putin took his wretched passivity at face value, and figured there was no need to stop his ghouls from mugging the dead.

In Ukraine as in the Holy Land, civilization sits precariously on a field sodden in blood. Israel understands this. Obama and his secretary of state never will.


Hesiod • The Jewish contribution to the Western identity and analytical thought has been tremendous, and it is not so much that Jewish enterprise has been considered a threat, but rather Jewish thought, requires people to think differently. Not only does much of the Muslim world fail to get the idea of democracy, it fails to get the idea of freedom of thought, and critical thinking.

Kosherguy • Had the British not cowed to Arab pressure and restricted Jewish immigration to Israel leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Stern Gang/Irgun would have been completely unnecessary. All the Jews wanted and want is their own home so that nobody can try and liquidate them again. Should Hamas leave the Israelis alone, everyone can get on with their lives. Equating the two is equivocating as the world idiots do with Israel and Apartheid.

Guest • It's not Putin who continues to stoke the fire but our own Harper, Obama and the rest of the western clan of politicians who have always treated Putin and Russia as a second-hand player on the global arena, as opposed to a legitimate partner who deserves respect. Honestly, I am surprised the Russians have as much tolerance for such insults as 'sanctions' that are continuously announced for so-called (and mostly unsubstantiated) bad behavior. It's also fascinating how Kosovans were freedom fighters - despite all the cruelties of their war - yet these separatists, who are fighting for their independence from an economically failed state with a known track record of ethnic cleansings going back to the early 20th century - are suddenly terrorists. At least the French have the balls to act as a worthy international partner and a state, sticking to their contracts and obligations, as opposed to us and all others who are parading around on the global arena waiting to deliver the proverbial slap on the wrist to any country that doesn't agree with our approach. It's about time you read some Paul Craig Roberts.

ElToroSequel to Guest • Yes Paul Craig Roberts, fascist, Putin fan and anti-semite. Good reading, for you, no doubt.

John Smith XXI • The Palestinians would rather spend the rest of their lives trying to massacre the Jews and push them into the sea, rather than build their own country.

Odelon • Obama seems to be a follower of the Chamberlain doctrine of appeasement. Remember how well it worked for Great Britain

Q Phillips Odelon • Obama has a lot more options than Chamberlain did. Chamberlain was no tower of strength, but to be fair it needs to be noted that Britain's ability to project military power into the crisis areas of the 1930s was extremely limited. The Royal Navy was strong, but could hardly sail to Austria, Rhineland or Sudetenland, while the British Army was tiny and the RAF not much larger. The US currently has the ability to project massive military power almost anywhere in the world but that power is counterbalanced by incredibly weak leadership that draws 'red lines' only to do nothing when they're crossed...

Mad Robert • If Palestine yearned to become a country, electing homicidal terrorists to establish their credentials is a funny way of doing it.

Capnhand to Mad Robert • It worked for Israel... weren't homicidal terrorists Shamir and Begin elected PM?

lukefisher to Capnhand • Hey, one of them shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
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Spaceman Spiff • Always great to see Mark Steyn back in the National Post, if only for a fleeting moment. It’s on topics like these – “big-picture” international stuff – where he shines most. I don’t always agree with his stances, but I do agree on his positions on Israel and the rest of the Middle East. He’s right – there is no Gaza “government” or strip of soil ruled by the “Palestinian Authority,” but if Hamas/PA/etc., had spent more time on actual “nation-building” and less time taking large and small pot-shots at Israel, they’d all be better off. Israel’s accomplished more in its almost 70 years of existence than the other countries in its neighbourhood have, combined, in terms of economic and democratic development. I remember, a few years back, an article in which Steyn noted that Palestinians have had almost 70 years to get on with life, after the creation of Israel, yet many of them are still referred to as “refugees,” even though there are countries all around the Mediterranean they could have moved to. If you’re the grandson of a displaced Palestinian and you consider yourself a displaced Palestinian for the same reason your grandparents were, then you’ve maybe got to un-displace yourself. Your family’s had 70 years to move on.

Mad Robert • Israel has a small piece of land compared to every other country surrounding them. Unlike the empires of the Ottomans, Persians et al, their neighbours want to see them obliterated from the face of the earth. They require their own country or they all face certain death.

northernobserver • Mark knows who pays his bills and he has written an article to please. Well done Marky. The characterisation of Hamas is entirely correct but the analogy falls down when we try and transfer that to Orthodox Ukrainians living east of the Dnieper. The fact is that we do not know the "character" of the republic of Donyesk because the government in Kiev has refused to let them be. Kiev has insisted the this political dispute will be resolved through violence, well then golly gee Marky, wadda ya think happens when you threaten people? As an uncomplexed western person you should know; that's right you don't take that sheet lying down you fight back. The demonization of Russia and the people of Eastern Ukraine is fun on all but it isn't based on facts. And when you start digging into the facts you start to see that the ultra-violence in the Ukraine has always been initiated by the Maiden 'protesters' and their shadowy supporters, creepy right wing European activists that make the Aryan Nation in Utah look like Camp Disney. Just Google Maiden snipers or burned alive in Odessa to get a feeling for what is going on in Ukraine by "our bastards". But the larger public will never know because the west hates Slavs in general and history is written by the victors and the peoples of the Eastern Ukraine are out-gunned, out-manned and out of money. Another group of people to be ploughed under in the name of Democracy or Liberalism or something. It's a sick fing world we are living in, when we can delude ourselves like Marky that we are righteous people when in truth we just refuse to look reality in the face and prefer our own candy coloured fantasies.

Tony frm Banff • What's disgusting is people believing in this tripe from Steyn! How is Isreal weakened by the USA President? How?

TerrorIsEvil to Tony frm Banff • Israel is weakened by Obama’s support of Islamist groups everywhere: Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - parent organization of Hamas, by his deferring American foreign policy to the
OIC-dominated UN whose members have a religious hate of Israel and spend all their energy condemning Israel whilst overlooking the carnage and totalitarians and terrorists flooding their own countries, by Obama’s looking the other way as Christians are being slaughtered as he obsesses over every home built in Israel – a country whose people have been there in an unbroken timeline for over 3500 years, by his America which he says is no longer exceptional (he'd rather it be socialist) with Obama giving up on American power and handing it to players like Qatar and Turkey and Islamists in Afghanistan (the Taliban), Iraq (ISIS), Syria, Libya, etc…And by his allowing Iran endless time and opportunity to develop nukes to throw at Israel and perhaps other nations with whom Iran is at war. Have a listen to Obama's Cairo speech when he first became president.

MobiusRex to TerrorIsEvil • Total crap. Israel is the third strongest military in the world in one of the smallest land masses in the world. Only idyots suggest anything makes Israel weak.

TerrorIsEvil to MobiusRex • You contradict yourself - having a strong military does nothing for a country that is 10 miles across - being small is not an advantage, it is a great disadvantage which is why land means so much to Israel. The Arabs do not need land, their motive for asking for more is to add to their 23 countries in their region which is 99 times larger than Israel's landmass. Ask yourself who is being unreasonable after actually looking at a map. Most people who want to shrink Israel would also not have a problem ethnically cleansing Jews in another Holocaust as the Iranians intend to do with help from their proxy Hezbollah and others.

MobiusRex to TerrorIsEvil • wow. learn to fn read. they have the third largest military in the world while the have the 150th largest population. it is not a fn contradiction, it is a fn fact

TerrorIsEvil to MobiusRex • Learn to think - having a powerful and well-disciplined armed forces is wonderful but the rest of the world (out of jealousy, hate for Jews, sympathy for Islamists, etc) are trying to break you down, punish your people with sanctions, fund and arm your enemies to the teeth - enemies who are vicious, 100 times more numerous and whose lives are worth nothing to their leaders or themselves - people eager to martyr themselves in a blaze of gory glory, then a great army will not do much unless you have support from allies (and Obama is not a loyal nor a reliable ally).

anon • Ukraine does not want the site investigated. They held international investigators in Kiev for four days after the crash. Now Ukrainian warjets have no business flying over Donetsk and Lugansk republics airspace.

ronnie dobbs • Not one word from Steyn about how Zionist groups used terrorism to pressure the British of course.

Theodor Adorno to ronnie dobbs • Or how many US Politicians/Congressmen/Senators are Israeli.

maurage to ronnie dobbs • and those who are not, who feel that they need AIPAC's blessing beforehand.

Howard Beale • Chernivsti is the ancestral home of my family. Many of the old habits must have come to Canada with my Grandfather. As a kid growing up in a catholic house, I thought it was normal to eat matzos and gefilte fish at Easter.

fabuloso • This is a foolish rant, full of specious innuendo, hints of conspiracies, and a skewing of facts. All worthy of Ezra Levant's little network.

G&M Canada1 • "To know Ukraine it helps to know Israel. " This guy/Steyn is either an absolute liar or completely brain dead. The Ukrainians went/fought with the Germans in WW2, supplying THOUSANDS of troops to the Gestapo, killing Jews and Russians at will. How this far right Tea Party Reformer specimen can actually put the "words" Israel and Ukraine in the same sentence is unbelievable and nothing short of disgusting. There are to this date WW2 survivors in Israel that will never forgive the Ukrainians for what they have done, how many Jews and Russians they have killed.

DaveM12 to G&M Canada1 • Did it enter your empty head that Russia had butchered millions of Ukrainians along with starving them to death and this was pay back. My friend's grandfather was shot along with all the men in his little village by the Russians so go cry your river somewhere's else about Russians in Ukraine along with your fellow commies.

MobiusRex to DaveM12 • All the more fn reason that Ukraine would want all Russians living in Ukraine OUT. NOt a reason to force Russians to stay in Ukraine at all.

G&M Canada1 to DaveM12 • Did it ever enter your empty Tea Party rReformer head that to this DATE the Ukraine celebrates their fight in WW2 on the side of the GESTAPO?

Mad Robert to G&M Canada1 • And Hitler and Stalin were best friends at one time and both thought the Jewish tree needed pruning. They were both socialists, and openly shared ideas on how best to run camps. Hitler took care of the Ukrainian Jews, and Stalin took care of the rest. Comparing Hitler to Stalin, Ukrainians may think, he was the lesser of two evils.

Guest • I was at a Starbucks here in Toronto about 4 years ago and started chatting with a Jewish immigrant - he must have been in his 70s - who was waiting for his wife. We started talking about Israel - where I have family - and I said that Israel was "a small country with a loud voice and a huge impact on the global stage." The man looked at me and said - "Yes, it's the exact opposite of Canada."

abinoam • this from The Guardian: Last night, the area around the St Porferios Greek Orthodox church – including its little cemetery – was shelled by Israeli forces.

J Henry • Author forgets about Israel's own practice of terrorism. Stern Group, Irgun, numerous kidnappings and bombings in the Mandate. Attack on the USS Liberty. Not to mention the apartheid regime and oppression they force the Palestinians to live under in Gaza and the West bank.

Sven the Jolly! • Didn't bother reading this propaganda. Couldn't care less what Steynberg thinks

Lymetime • He's a creative writer trying to foster feelings of empathy for the poor plight of the Israelis. Notice he builds up to this by recounting the Holocaust, which was, of course, horrendous, and then portraying Israel using adjectives such as "tiny" and "sliver" in comparison to the, apparently, gargantuan Palestinian state. No doubt this particular wording was intended to divert attention/justify that Israel has usurped pretty much all of that land, to date. Obvious apologist is obvious. As with most internet-based writers that fear-monger, he has to get more and more out there to get the same impact. I call it the North Korea-complex, where you threaten so much that you have to keep escalating to get the same attention. Steyn is just...horrendous as a writ

fastjet45 • Good to know the Islamic State in Iraq is using American Humvees. Go USA!

maurage • and if McCain had his way, the USA would supply tons of weapons to the insurgents in Syria who will gladly share them with ISIS.

MobiusRex • It is asinine to compare Ukraine to Israel. Ukraine is a country on the verge of civil war due to citizens in it wanting to change their governance. Israel OCCUPIES Palestine/Gaza under terms of OCCUPATION. They are not citizens rebelling at all. you want comparisons?? Ukraine is more like Korea that could split into east/west Ukraine. Israel is more like China in Tibet.

Maureen55 to MobiusRex • Define occupation because Israel left Gaza in 2005 (as Steyn discusses in the column) and the IDF only entered Gaza recently to destroy the rockets sites. I suspect your definition of occupy is that same as Hamas - no Jewish state ever! That is alienation which is of course the context that Steyn has put in the column - why are all the vibrant Jewish communities in Eastern Europe (and elsewhere in the world) no longer - because the Jews were slaughtered. Why is Israel going to defend their tiny bit of land? Because it is theirs and they did build it out of nothing. Which of course Gaza could have done with the land they have now, if their leaders were in any way interested in building a nation - which they are not . I suggest you actually read the article and once you have read it you come back and post something of substance rather than just stringing together whatever current phrases you can get off the internet and pamphlets handed out at rallies for anti-Semites.

MobiusRex • If repeating the fact that Israel OCCUPATION is anti-Semitic, then the official position of Canada is anti-semtic to people like you. : "Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip). The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel's obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace."

anon • Steyn's article is so propagandistic that it's hard to take it seriously. It certainly looks like a political request from Harper. He set the tone, followed by the Canadian media. Actually, the tone was set by the US State Department and Harper just followed it.

Lymetime • A nice article, if one disregards the faulty premise, the weak correlation of events, the faulty assertions and the complete ignorance of current conditions, actions and history.

Rhiannon Faulkner • These articles get more revolting by the second

Robertson Glassford • And on a somewhat related point, has anyone else noticed that when the staunch pro-Putin writers get agitated, anti-Semitic remarks are sure to follow? It doesn't exactly re-assure a person about their motivations.

fastjet45 • Great article. Too bad the 'terrorists' in both instances actually live there and feel oppressed by the state.

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