Reflections on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street President
on March 3, 2022

Reflections on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

I’m sure many J Street supporters are experiencing the same range of emotions that I am as we witness Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Horror at the unprovoked violence. Anxiety over mounting casualties. Fear for the war crimes and indiscriminate bombardments that may yet inflict untold horror and suffering.

And yet, at the same time, we are awed by the resolve and spirit of the Ukrainian people and their leadership. By the brave Russians taking to the streets to rally against Putin’s aggression, as they protest against teenagers being sent to die in an inexcusable war.

For those of us who are Jewish, this conflict hits particularly close to home.

Ukraine is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, and President Zelenskyy himself is Jewish. Both on our staff and in our communities, a significant number of us have personal or ancestral ties to Ukraine or Russia, or family and friends for whom we hold deep concern.

Since the invasion, J Street has joined 176 allied Jewish, progressive and refugee organizations to urge the White House to offer immediate refuge to all Ukrainian students, visitors and workers currently in the United States through a temporary protected status authorization. We’ve also invited our supporters to contribute to our friends at HIAS, who are fundraising for relief efforts for Ukranians fleeing the violence.

President Putin’s attack on Ukraine marks the largest and most prominent attack on democracy, diplomacy and peace in recent history.

For those of us committed to the battle for justice, freedom and human rights, it is a striking reminder of how vital and connected our shared struggle for these values is around the world.

Together, we’re battling forces of autocracy, ultranationalism, militarism and ‘might-is-right’ rule, perhaps personified at their absolute worst by President Putin’s unprovoked war against the Ukrainian people.

While it should perhaps no longer surprise us, it has been truly alarming to see right-wing nationalists — from Donald Trump to Fox News pundits to Benjamin Netanyahu — seek to excuse or defend Putin’s authoritarianism, even as bombs rain down on civilians in cities across Ukraine.

Today, I am perhaps more thankful than I’ve ever been that Donald Trump no longer sits in the Oval Office.

This historic, challenging moment calls for rational and steady democratic leadership, clear judgment to avoid unnecessary escalation, and determined diplomacy to rally international support for Ukrainians and to impose severe consequences on Russia’s leadership.

The struggle for peace and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians of course remains J Street’s core mission. Yet we recognize that our work is but one facet of a broader struggle pitting proponents of peace, diplomacy and human rights against hawks, militarists and ethno-nationalists.

J Street knows where we stand. We stand for peace and for diplomacy. We stand for justice, equality, democracy and human rights.

And we will stand up for those values whether against anti-democratic forces here at home, the pro-occupation right in Israel, or global autocrats like Putin.

The weeks ahead will be challenging. Even as the battle rages in Ukraine, there may be political skirmishes here at home if a deal is reached to return to the Iran nuclear agreement. And, I can tell you — having recently returned from a delegation to Israel and Palestine — that tensions there are reaching another boiling point, heading toward the Spring holidays of Passover, Ramadan and Easter.

Through it all, J Street will continue to search for ways to live up to our values — and to promote our belief that peace and democracy must and will prevail, in Ukraine, in Israel and Palestine, here in the US, and around the world.

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