* Netanyahu aligned with US but sees importance in Putin
* Ukraine's Jews a rallying cry, yet anti-Semitism murky
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, March 12 A Ukrainian Jewish leader
opposed to the Russian takeover of Crimea failed to drum up
support this week from Israel, which is sitting out the crisis
pitting its U.S. ally against Moscow.
Edward Dolinsky, head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee,
made a lobbying trip to Jerusalem with influential Ukrainian
Jewish lawmaker Alexander Feldman. They were not received by
officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Dolinsky said he and
Feldman had sought to win Israeli support for "Ukraine and the
aspirations of the Ukrainian people". He voiced dismay at the
Netanyahu government's failure to oppose Russia's Crimea move.
Such censure, while not voiced by all of Ukraine's 200,000
Jews, challenges Israel's effort to steer clear of the showdown
between Moscow and the U.S.-backed nationalists in Kiev even as
allegations of anti-Semitism surface on both sides.
"We were disappointed with the Israeli reaction, the
acceptance of the Ukraine situation," Dolinsky said. "They are
trying to be very diplomatic with Russia because of Russian
influence and the future importance of Russia for Israel's
Many in Ukraine thought Israel could mobilise international
opinion for Kiev, Dolinsky said.
"Israel is a small country by size but for Ukrainians it is
an influential country," he said. "And it is also important for
Israel to have Ukraine as a friend in the future."
Israel's focus is on bigger players, however - its main
ally, the United States, and Russian President Vladimir Putin,
with whom it has quietly built ties out of deference to his
clout on issues such as the Iranian nuclear diplomacy and
Syria's civil war and chemical disarmament.
"We have good and trusting relations with the Americans and
the Russians, and our experience has been very positive with
both sides. So I don't understand the idea that Israel has to
get mired in this," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told
Israel's Channel 9 TV when asked about the Ukraine crisis.
Lieberman grew up in Soviet Moldova, neighbouring Ukraine.
While staking a claim to Crimea's Russian-speaking majority,
Putin has also said he wanted to quell a "rampancy of neo-Nazis,
nationalists (and) anti-Semites" in Ukraine.
Dolinsky dismissed that as "simply lies and slander", noting
that some Ukrainian Jews believe recent anti-Semitic incidents
such as synagogue desecrations may have been staged by
pro-Russian agents provocateurs.
However, other Ukrainian Jews, including some living in
Crimea, identify with Russia's aims and voice fear at the rise
of hard-right nationalists in the new Kiev government.
"There are Jews on both sides of this," an Israeli official
told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "It's not a clear-cut
situation, and we're taking our lead from the Ukrainian Jewish
community. For now, no one there is preparing for an exodus."
The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel last month
pledged to help pay for improved security for Ukraine's Jews.
That fell short, however, of what Dolinsky said he had
requested of Lieberman - that Israeli security experts fly out
to provide on-site advice. Spokesmen for Israel's Foreign
Ministry were unable for comment due to a labour dispute.
Zvi Magen, a former Israeli ambassador to Russia, said
fence-straddling was best for the Netanyahu government.
"By clamming up, Israel pays a price with Russia, but it
also has to be mindful of its American partnership," said Magen,
now with Tel Aviv University's INSS think-tank.
Even in Israel, the 1.2 million immigrants from the former
Soviet Union - many of them constituents of Netanyahu's and
Lieberman's right-wing parties - were split half-and-half over
which side to back in Crimea, Magen said.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Tom Heneghan)