The Israeli prime minister came to Lithuania with a clear proposal that he did not sugar-coat or conceal. However, in Lithuania he was met by three confused prime ministers, jaws dropped in surprise and… uncoordinated positions, Indrė Makaraitytė writes on lrt.lt.
“I would say that we are colleagues, we respect one another, talk to one another very openly. I asked him to expel Iran from Syria because I believe that Iran is seeking to destroy us,” B. Netanyahu answered and later repeated that while Israel is a strong and important country, it deals in its own questions. Not ours, not the Ukrainians’, not the Russians’, but its own.
“We talk about what is of direct importance to us with Russia. We are an important country, a strong country, but in such talks, we limit ourselves to our nearest neighbours,” B. Netanyahu said in LRT’s Dienos Tema.
This was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. Not only because I posed those few questions under the watch of a group of people, who make sure his apparatus is operating like clockwork and that it not easy to get used to the large presence of his security within just a few minutes, but also because I spoke to a politician, who, as any other politician, cares about his image and the only leitmotif in his rational and open answers was his country, its survival and Israel’s national interests.
B. Netanyahu did not act coy and did not seek to pretend.
After the conversation, I was left frustrated because I realised that the distance for us to such articulated understanding of our national interests and such representation is like to the moon and back. In Lithuania there is only uncoordinated positions and acting coy, which can mean only one thing – it is difficult to understand, what Lithuania wants from the world.
And this visit put it on display very clearly. Even if it is truly historic.
Let us start from how B. Netanyahu or, more accurately, Israel, brought a radically different view of Russia here. This question is so painful to us that seeing B. Netanyahu in Vilnius and also in the May 9th parade in Moscow next to Vladimir Putin, wearing a ribbon of St. George is akin to a serious slight, if not being spat in the face.
The ribbon of St. George is ambiguous, it is not only the symbol of the Soviet struggle against fascism, but also the symbol of Russia’s imperial ambitions, aggression against Ukraine. But how else, B. Netanyahu explains, if in his country there is a million emigrant Jews from the former Soviet Union. For them, the Second World War also ended on May 9th and then, with the war having not even ended, there may not even have been any Jews left?
There are those, who believe that the perception that the Second World War against the fascists was won solely by the Russians is being intentionally spread by Kremlin propaganda agents in the Russian speaking part of Israel. Furthermore, there are already Kremlin “trolls” in Israel – Israeli journalists have observed tens of thousands of artificial tweets about the problems of Israel and the entire region, some were not even written in Hebrew. This means that the audience for Kremlin organised cyber-attacks is Jews and people, who care about Israel. This also means that efforts are being made to impact elections and their results. This is in a country, where innovations are ahead of time and security is suitably funded.
“My friends – Saulius, Jūris and Maris,” B. Netanyahu, as friendly as he could, named in Vilnius. As for V. Putin – just a colleague. However, when needed, V. Putin is not a colleague or a friend because when your own country’s security is now almost completely dependent on the games played by the Kremlin with Iran, the ribbon of St. George on B. Netanyahu’s jacket, Jews believe, is the least that the prime minister can do for security.
Same here, in Europe. Prior to arriving in the Baltic States, B. Netanyahu already worked, seeking space, how to change the European Union‘s attitude to Israel. He periodically honours the controversial leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban and, as Bloomberg Businessweek notes, withheld from comments, when V. Orban’s party slogans occasionally flashed with anti-Semitic notions, which left the Hungarian Jewish community flustered.
All this, so that there would be more supporters of Israel in Europe. B. Netanyahu’s deputy, Michael Oren, speaking to Bloomberg Businessweek, said that Israel truly does want European Union unity in its attitude to Israel to shatter because a united Europe in this regard is no boon for Israel.
Let us look at it from a different angle though.
If B. Netanyahu demonstratively displays signs of favour for V. Orban, V. Putin and D. Trump, does this mean that Maris, Jūris and Saulius, included among his friends, also become a part of this axis?
Certainly not because if B. Netanyahu fairly openly states that they will not interfere and do not interfere into the problem of Russian aggression against Ukraine, this does not mean that there is no silent aid in NATO exercises. While Israel does not support sanctions against Russia in public, this does not mean that they do not cooperate in granting intelligence information and technological innovations. Israel is not only an excellent, thriving state, but also the only democracy in its region. However, its democracy is unfortunately not enough to resolve the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
Certainly not, if a simple, perhaps sole condition is fulfilled – if you truly know, what you want.
But what lies behind the Lithuanian hand stretched out to aid Israel.
Lithuanian ambitions of leadership in the European Union of defending small in size or not fully fulfilled, but large democracies’ problems? Perhaps. However, Dalia Grybauskaitė remains at the same, still standing and applicable European Union position on Israel. In the meeting with the Israeli prime minister, he repeated what Israel always hears and what is no blessing for them: no settlements in occupied territories, capital in Jerusalem only by way of negotiations, peace agreement, international law and the proportional use of force.
Then what does S. Skvernelis, this time once more entering the field of international politics, which is unfamiliar to him? In the press conference, he declared in a voice full of surprise that he found out from B. Netanyahu, just how problematic the Middle East region is and what security challenges Israel faces. Also, that he unexpectedly saw that the European Union truly does view many issues incorrectly. And then, resolutely as always, just like once with the question of reviewing relations with Russia, he declared that the European Union’s stance should be changed.
But what is Lithuania’s position on the Middle East conflict? The current EU one is not suitable, then what is? Will we form a new one when the current president leaves and no longer takes issue with friendship with Israel? Or will we wait for B. Netanyahu to finally become certain that Russia is truly the bogeyman of the Baltic States and will decide not to trade Saulius, Jūris ir Maris for V. Putin after all. What of V. Putin, these ones are so cute after all.
Such and similar questions can be listed one after another and they will all be correct because Lithuania does not know what it wants. There are a few, who muse here and there, but compared to what the Israeli prime minister brought, L. Linkevičius and Emanuelis Zingeris‘ thoughts are diplomatic filler for broadcasts.
Perhaps our goal and desire from this partnership with Israel, that’s landed in our lap, is what in return for support here, B. Netanyahu brought to Lithuania?
“You know, we are flooded with ambiguous feelings in Vilnius. It is truly beautiful here, but also very sad. We have endured very much,” B. Netanyahu and his wife answered, nearly in chorus, when I asked, what the nearly levelled Jerusalem of the North is like to them. And before this, there was a commemoration at the Paneriai Memorial and there, B. Netanyahu described, how he feels, standing on bloodstained grounds in the Paneriai forest, which is an outright grave.
He recounted about his grandfather, who barely recovered after being beaten to loss of consciousness and when he recovered, he decided to never remain here, but travel to the Promised Land. B. Netanyahu called out in his powerful voice and an oath resounded in that Paneriai forest:
“Today I wish to tell my grandfather: Saba, I am here, I have returned and I stand in this forest of death as the prime minister of Israel. We will no longer be powerless. We have our country, our military and we can defend ourselves. Israel is strong and proud. The people of Israel will live forever.”
But during this visit, which lasted four days, Lithuania did not hear a single accusation, not a single piece of reproach over the Holocaust. Quite the contrary, while he was attacked on Israeli media during all the days of the visit, prior to it and on returning by figures ranging from Efraim Zuroff to Dovit Katz, who demands condemnation or Lithuania because it is not taking up investigating and does not concede its anti-Soviet resistance heroes’ contribution to the Holocaust, even if these and other figures are also actively making appearances in the US Jewish diaspora, B. Netanyahu came here with a completely different message.
He thanked Prime Minister S. Skvernelis for the victims of the Holocaust being suitably honoured, for open talks about this terrible crime and that here, in Lithuania, appearances of anti-Semitism are combatted immediately upon being noticed.
This was not all the Israeli prime minister did. Film after film flew there that yes, this is a land soaked in pain, that the faces of murdered children haunt building walls, but this is Lita. This is the Jerusalem of the North. Hospitable and peaceful people live here.
If he really wanted a different message, B. Netanyahu could have shot the film about his forefathers’ land not from the Three Crosses Hill, but from the steps of the evangelical reformists church steps, which are still made out of destroyed Jewish tombstones. Even and dry stones, you can still see Hebrew writing, but when it rains, they emerge even clearer. You also see the Star of David there. Another film could be shot from the Antakalnis clinical hospital stairs. And from another few objects, which were once tombstones. Šiauliai is a little distant, but if he wished, he could also have gone there and walked up the municipality stairs from the ruined Šiauliai Jewish cemetery tombstones.
Truth be told, it is hard to imagine, what an effect this could have, but I can almost guess that Zuroff’s allegations about Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas would seem like beautiful flowers after such an act.
But it did not happen. Quite the contrary, the Israeli ambassador here in Lithuania, prior to the start of the year of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas, met with the latter’s daughter Auksutė Ramanauskaitė-Skokauskienė.
But those stairs out of Jewish tombstones remain. And they count thirty years of independence.
The stairs are only about us and not about Israel.