Jews and Ukrainians in Minnesota banded together Thursday to link the ongoing conflicts in Israel and Ukraine, equating Hamas' terrorism to Russia's war crimes and encouraging Washington lawmakers to honor President Biden's request to tie the countries' military aid.
Displaying photographs of some of the more than 200 Israeli hostages held by Hamas and showing pro-Israel and pro-Ukraine signs with slogans like "War Is Awful, Evil Is Worse," Jewish and Ukrainian community leaders stood in solidarity in drawing parallels between these fights on the other side of the world.
"The horror (of the Hamas attacks) was compounded by the reaction of the world, by the massive demonstrations and support of these brutal murders," said Olga Frayman, a Jewish member of Minnesota's Ukrainian community who moved from Ukraine to the United States as a child. "The what-aboutism and deflection, the celebrations of the atrocities right here in the U.S., the anti-Semitic genocidal chants. I thought, 'They just don't get it.' But you know who gets it? The Ukrainians do."
"Ukraine and Israel are connected because Hamas and Russia are connected," she continued. "Ukraine and Israel are fighting the same existential war. This is a war of democracy, against despotism."
In equating Russian president Vladimir Putin's fight to annihilate Ukraine with Hamas' fight to annihilate Israel, the Jews and Ukrainians cited Hamas' original 1988 charter, which aims to "obliterate" Israel, and a recent statement by a Hamas leader vowing to repeat the Oct. 7 attack many more times.
Hassan Abdel Salam, a human rights professor at the University of Minnesota and a Muslim community leader, saw the linkage of the two conflicts as a brilliant strategy to gather support — but also as deeply flawed logic.
"The challenges taking place between Israel and Palestine are very different between those with Ukraine and Russia," he said. "The metaphor doesn't pass, because the Palestinian people don't have a nation. Here are two people who are in a cycle of violence who wish to live in that land but somehow, through this violence, have been constructed as two sides. This framing as an existential threat, it creates another side, and it paints the other side in such a way that you have to destroy them before they destroy us."
A repeated grievance from the Jewish and Ukrainian community leaders was the both-sidesism, especially on social media and on college campuses. When Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, read a line from a recent guest column in the Star Tribune by an Arab-American television producer and documentarian — "The children of the Holocaust are committing one" — the assembled crowd gasped.
Hunegs cautioned against calling civilian suffering in Gaza a genocide.
"Something we should all be careful about in this tinderbox of a time is rhetoric," Hunegs said. "We have to speak in terms of the truth ... Intent is the key. Israel is conducting a war of self-defense. You've heard many people say we mourn the loss of all innocent life, Palestinian civilians. (But) let's remember the source of it: Hamas."
Maria Sheremeta, vice president of the MN Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee, looks at the Oct. 7 attack on Israel in the same way she looks at Russia's war on Ukraine: State-sponsored terrorism, where civilians are often targets.
"The Moscow-led terrorist club intends to plunge the world into chaos and into violence," Sheremeta said. "There is no more time for hesitation. Terrorists must be stopped immediately in Ukraine and in Israel. It is a global responsibility that transcends borders and politics."