Save the Israeli embassy in Belarus


Belarus has a Jewish heart. This country used to be home to millions of Jews for centuries. It used to be the only country in the world that had Hebrew and Yiddish as two of the state languages.

Many extraordinary people have Jewish roots in Belarus. Among them are Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Harrison Ford, Louis Bart Mayer (The person who created Oscar), Michael Kirk Douglas, Marc Chagall and Yehuda Pen (internationally renowned artist), Chaim Weizmann, Steve Ballmer (an ex CEO of Microsoft), Isser Harel (he established Mossad), Yeruham “Eitan” Livni and thousands of others. To be more correct—Jews came from Belarus because there was a law in the Russian Empire that forbade Jews from settling to the east of the Belarusian border (in Russia)—that is why practically all Russian Jews have their roots in Belarus.

During World War II, Nazis and their helpers from Lithuania, Latvia and Poland tried to do their best to annihilate Belarusian Jews, but they fought hard and with the help of ordinary Belarusians they managed to survive.

Today many Jews in Belarus hide their origins because the ghost of anti-Semitism is always near, but I know for sure that this generous country hosts hundreds of thousands of people with Jewish roots. When Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by armed radicals and their sponsors, the ghost gained new strength because many of the “activists” were people with Jewish surnames and this fact reflects greatly on the Jewish communities in former USSR countries. They think only about their income and don’t care how it affects Jews in Russian-speaking countries. That Ukrainian story gave fertile ground for the ideas based on “Jewish conspiracy” theories.

Belarus is not an exception. Radicals live even in this country. The idea of “Jews are guilty in everything” is still alive. “Jew-supporters” without any problems draw Magen Davids on posters with Jewish artists in the center of Minsk (Belarusian capital) without condemnation even from Jewish organizations. Even more, the only Belarusian Jewish news web site,, is being pressured by some officials from Jewish organizations when it points on hot issues.

In this atmosphere the Israeli embassy in Belarus is the last defense line but somebody in Israel decided to leave Belarusian Jews without protection. Is this an act of revenge against Avigdor Lieberman? Yes, he was extremely effective as a minister for foreign affairs and he decided not to lie to his electorate and did not join this strange coalition that we have today. But is this a good excuse to leave thousands of Jews without any protection? I doubt it. Lieberman reopened the embassy and the last ambassador, Joseph Shagal, who has been the best head of the diplomatic mission and has brought political and economic relation between the states in the highest level ever, is his friend.

First of all, the government fired the ambassador and after that they announced the decision to close the embassy in the country that has become one of the world’s arenas in solving international problems. Was this decision wise? I doubt it.

What is the official reason to close the embassy? To cut expenses. Do you believe this? This is the worst possible excuse in the diplomatic world. It’s like a slap in the face. They are talking about cutting expenses (the annual budget for the embassy was 3 million dollars) and at the same time give 3 billion dollars to ultra-orthodox voters. Half of them don’t even recognize Israel. Together with the closing of the embassy will be the closing of the Israeli cultural center, which is home for hundreds of teenagers, families and aged persons. This center is the only official organization that promotes love to Israel in Belarus.

After that don’t tell that all Jews are equal and they are equally important for Israel. Maybe it will be a surprise for you, but olim hadashim from former USSR countries don’t even get darkon* when they ask for a passport. They have to live at least one year in Israel to obtain a right for this document and the western Jews do not have this kind of problem.

Save the embassy, save the Jewish heart.

(*Israel issues two different passports. The first one is darkon, the second is lesse passé. Yuspa explained that if a person made an aliyah and three months later decided to travel abroad - he or she has to go to the ministry of internal affairs and ask for passport. If this person came from an ex-USSR country and did not live in Israel at least a year he or she would get a lesse passe (travel document). This document is not recognized as an Israeli passport and he or she would need to apply for a visa. If you are lucky enough to be a French, Italian, German or other western country Jew (including Latin America) - you will get darkon and become a first class Jew.)

This article first ran in The Jerusalem Post. Meir Yuspa lives in Belarus, but hopes to make aliyah. He can be reached at


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