A glance at Ukraine-Israeli relations through the eyes of Lviv-born Faina Kirshenbaum3 days ago at 00:18 | Kateryna Grushenko
Editor’s Note: Faina Kirshenbaum, 50, was born in Lviv and emigrated to Israel at the age of 18. Kirshenbaum is married with three children. She still refers to herself as a nurse by training, despite being a successful politician and receiving a second degree in business management.
Faina Kirshenbaum is the second highest ranking woman from post-Soviet countries in the Israeli government. As the secretary general of the Israel Beytenu Party (Our Home Is Israel), she successfully lobbied for a visa-free regime with Ukraine. It comes into effect in the fall.
Kirshenbaum, 50, came to Ukraine in June to meet Christian leaders and make friends as Israel takes political beating worldwide for its ongoing conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. In an interview with the Kyiv Post, Kirshenbaum reflected on how Soviet schooling helped her to blossom in politics and why Israel and Ukraine should keep their doors open to each other.
KP: When asked about your profession, you still answer that you are a nurse by training. How did you end up in politics?
FK: I volunteered. In 1981, I moved from Tel Aviv to the Israeli settlement of Nili, which was a piece of hilly land with nothing but a few unsteady huts on it. We were the fourth family there. We built everything – the water supply and systems – from scratch.
I was in charge of organizing the children’s leisure activities in the community. That’s when my training in Komsomol [the Soviet Union’s political youth organization] really helped. I copied the way we used to organize hobby groups and introduced it in Nili. My husband taught children basketball after school. I administered the work of the hobby clubs, gave lectures on health and hygiene to children in school, brought theater plays to our settlement and organized summer camps. In the meantime, I also worked as a nurse.
Seven years later, people elected me the head of the settlement. I beat six men who ran for the post. After another five years, I was in charge of 35 settlements. In five more years, I was in charge of creating settlements and managed tourism and agriculture.
I volunteered again after a tragic event: A Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up by the Dolphinarium disco, killing and injuring many Russian-speaking teenagers. I helped them and their families – newcomers who didn’t speak a word of Hebrew – to recover. There I met Avigdor Lieberman [now the minister of foreign affairs, deputy prime minister of Israel and chairman of Our Home Is Israel] who also helped out. He invited me to participate in the party’s election campaign. I have been a member of the party since 2003.
KP: Why did your party push hard for the visa-free regime between Ukraine and Israel?
FK: Our party is national, but the majority of its members are Russian-speaking, Soviet-born. We lobbied the interests of the Russian-speaking community in Israel. It comprises 20 percent of the country’s population. It’s also beneficial for Israel in general.
KP: There is some opposition to a visa-free regime, as well as stereotypes on both sides. For example, some think Ukrainians are trafficked to Israel for cheap labor, prostitution or as suppliers for the organ trade. What do people in Israel think about that? FK: You have to understand, there are very religious orthodox parties in the Israeli parliament. We were opposed by the Ministry of Interior Affairs, which was concerned that illegal workers from Ukraine would cause unemployment among the locals. The human trafficking issue was also brought up.
KP: So, are those fears groundless?
FK: Many women were trafficked to Israel through Egypt’s border [Ukrainians don’t need visas to travel to Egypt]. If someone wants to traffic humans, visas won’t stop him. Instead, the visa regime halts pilgrims to Jerusalem and businessmen. Besides, we have a very positive experience with Russia [visas were canceled in 2008]. The number of tourists from Russia to Israel tripled from 180,000 to 540,000 [per year] after we introduced the visa-free regime.
KP: Who will benefit from the visa-free regime the most?
FK: It will be good for both countries. Israeli pilgrims come to Uman [25,000 pilgrims visited the religiously important city in central Ukraine to celebrate the Jewish New Year in 2009] and Medzhybizh [a center of Jewish culture in Western Ukraine].
Israelis also like to travel abroad for their vacations. Many used to go to Turkey. But with Turkey closing its door to us, some might prefer Crimea.
Personally, I like Yalta. But Ukraine needs to develop its infrastructure – airports, roads, hotels – for large amounts of tourists to come.
[Note: The relationship became very strained between Israel and Turkey after Israel Defense Forces killed eight Turkish activists in the raid against Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010].
Currently 70,000 tourists from Ukraine come to Israel annually. We expect to welcome 120,000 after the visas are cancelled.
KP: What have you achieved during your trip to Ukraine?
FK: I will be bringing a Ukrainian cinema festival to Israel, mostly movies about World War II and the fate of Ukrainian people in it. A big Israeli delegation will come to Ukraine to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Babiy Yar tragedy [where 34,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in Kyiv].
KP: What was your mission in Ukraine?
FK: I met the heads of the Christian confessions in Kyiv – Patriarch Volodymyr, Patriarch Filaret, president of the evangelist union Mykhailo Panochko and others. We want to find new friends in the Christian world and also explain Israel’s position.
There are 57 Arabic countries, their budgets’ bolstered by oil and gas, that are currently against Israel. The western Christian world also doesn’t want to lose the Arabic product markets so they don’t take our side. Israel is a small country. But we want people to hear us and understand that not everything is black and white. [link]
Lviv-born Faina could not resist from attacking ever so slightly Israeli religious parties in an interview with Kyiv Post. On the other hand she is grateful to Komsomol for giving her organizational skills; she is also not without respect toward religion, as she is happy to report that she had met with "the heads of the Christian confessions in Kyiv – Patriarch Volodymyr, Patriarch Filaret, president of the evangelist union Mykhailo Panochko and others". Are we the only ones to see a disconnect here? Who is this woman's communication director?
posted by: jrtelegraph