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Most of Israel's top leadership condemns war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine

Israel’s foreign minister, defense minister and health minister have all condemned what they named war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine, but the prime minister is still treading lightly.
Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

While visiting the field hospital Israel established last month in Ukraine April 4, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tweeted, "Israel is the only country operating a field hospital in Ukraine. More than 200 people have already been treated here. We will continue reaching out to the Ukrainian people. This our moral duty in the face of the brutal Russian invasion, in the face of the massacres and war crimes taking place on this land."

Horowitz went on, "It is very difficult to see the pictures from the massacre in Bucha. But one must not look away nor divert attention from the war crimes committed by Russia. A crime against humanity, against freedom and human rights and against the entire democratic world. I came today to the field hospital we set up in Ukraine to clarify: Ukraine, you are not alone."

Among the Israeli leadership, Horowitz has been the most outspoken about the Bucha massacre. 

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted April 3, "It is impossible to remain indifferent in the face of the horrific images from the city of Bucha near Kyiv, from after the Russian army left. Intentionally harming a civilian population is a war crime and I strongly condemn it."

Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky tweeted, "Deeply shocked by the photos from Bucha. Killing of civilians is a war crime and cannot be justified." 

Despite Lapid's tweet, the Foreign Ministry distanced itself from what Brodsky wrote, telling the Israeli press that he was speaking for himself and even “didn’t blame Russia.”

Interviewed April 3 on Israel’s public broadcaster KAN, Defense Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the Bucha massacre, saying, “I condemn murder of this kind; it really is a war crime. Also in times of war, we need to make sure we adhere to values called morality in fighting. Unfortunately, civilians may be harmed in combat, but they cannot be murdered during the fighting. This is something that looked very serious.”

Having said that, Gantz also suggested that Israel’s condemnation of war crimes committed in Bucha must not compromise its ability to carry out strikes against Iranian-backed targets in Syria. “We will continue to operate anywhere in the Middle East where we need to act.” 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not yet commented publicly on accusations that Russia committed war crimes in Bucha. Journalist Barak Ravid tweeted this morning, “For two days now I have been trying to get a reaction from the prime minister's office about the massacre in Bucha. For the moment, Bennett is silent. Let’s see how long this will last.”

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman refused to outright condemn Russia for the massacre in Bucha. Liberman told Army Radio April 4 that Israel must uphold both its moral values and its own interests amid the ongoing war. Liberman said, “There are difficult images, and we all condemn all war crimes,” but went on, “This is about mutual accusations.” 

Liberman noted that Russia has complained at the UN of what it called Ukraine's "blatant provocation." The minister said, “Russia is blaming Ukraine and Ukraine is blaming Russia. We condemn, but really what we need to understand is that there is a bloody war and we must on one hand maintain Israel’s moral position and on the other preserve the interests of the State of Israel.”

Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk reacted angrily in a statement, saying, “I invite Mr. Liberman to come to Ukraine. We will take him with a convoy to Bucha and to other places where he can see for himself the bodies of civilians and meet the women who were tied up and raped. Maybe then he will know what happened.”

Israel has been careful throughout the war not to condemn Russia as bluntly as the United States and European Union have, hoping to preserve Israeli-Russian communication channels on Syria. With Israel now facing its own security challenges with three terror attacks in March, Bennett took a step back from his mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine. Still, associates of Bennett had told the Israeli press that if Turkish mediation efforts fail, Israel might step back in.

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