Sep 21, 2022 - World

Scoop: Some Israeli officials worry war hurt Israel's image in Ukraine

A Tel Aviv demonstrator holds an Israeli flag on March 20 during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images
A Tel Aviv demonstrator holds an Israeli flag on March 20 during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli Foreign Ministry wants to conduct a public opinion poll in Ukraine in order to assess whether Israel’s image in the country has been damaged in the months since Russia launched its invasion, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Some Israeli Foreign Ministry officials are very concerned about the attitude of the Ukrainian public toward Israel while others think the disagreements are mainly at the political level and haven’t percolated to average Ukrainians.

The big picture: In the first months of the war, Israel took a very careful position, condemning Russia for the invasion while remaining hesitant to fully back Ukraine and supply it with weapons.

  • Israel didn’t criticize Putin directly, and for several weeks, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett even tried to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized the Israeli position many times, including from his bunker in the first weeks of the war, where he said Israeli leadership wasn't wearing the Ukrainian flag like many Israeli citizens were.
  • Since then, Israel has agreed to provide nonlethal defense aid to Ukraine but has so far refused Kyiv's requests for advanced weaponry.

Behind the scenes: According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry cable Axios obtained, an Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation that visited Kyiv in the first week of September met with a Ukrainian PR company called “Arena."

  • “There was a discussion about Israel’s situation in the media and public opinion in Ukraine and the building of an action plan to improve Israel’s image in different audiences," the cable said.
  • That action plan includes conducting a poll to measure Ukrainian views about Israel.

What they're saying: "There is a narrative in Ukraine that Israel didn’t live up to the expectations. It damaged our image. We think we did a lot for Ukraine since the invasion, but it is not known enough in the general public and to decision-makers," a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said.

  • A second Israeli Foreign Ministry official said he is not sure if there is a need for a PR firm to help in improving Israel’s image in Ukraine. “We are conducting the poll to see where we stand and what we need," he said.

What’s next: The Israeli Foreign Ministry is sending a new deputy ambassador to Kyiv who will focus specifically on public diplomacy, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials say.

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