The Jewish David Faces the Russian Goliath

Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, came out of his tent in full armor and challenged the Israelites to send a champion of their own to fight him in single combat. David without armor accepted the challenge and hurled a stone which hit Goliath in the forehead. Goliath fell to the ground and David cut off his head. Today, the contemporary David, Volodymyr Zelensky wants ammunition, not sticks, to fight, as his ancestors did at Masada, against the heavily armed dictator of modern aggressors. 

David with the Head of Goliath by Abraham Bosse (1604-1676) Public domian

The Russian Philistine Vladimir Putin backed by full armor has ordered his army to invade a country led by a Jewish President, more lightly armed, in order to “maintain peace.” Beginning an unprovoked conflict, though refusing to admit he was ordering as “invasion,” Putin falsely accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists and declared that the country, headed by a Jew, should be “cleansed of the Nazis.” President Zelensky recognized the implicit Nazi refence to himself, “The enemy has designated me as target number one, and my family as target number two.”

But Putin, macho image and all, a man who has virtually isolated himself at his absurd long diplomatic table, an aggressor protected by military security personnel has not read the biblical narrative recently or remembered its conclusion. The scorned, underestimated Ukrainian leader Zelensky, has been transformed into a new David, a modern hero, who is willing to respond to an unprovoked challenge.  He embodies the aphorism of Nelson Mandela, “I have learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”

Irrespective of the outcome of the fighting in Ukraine, the consequences should be pronounced in advance.  Putin is a war criminal, and if alive, should be tried before a modern version of the Nuremberg trials, held under international law and the laws of war.  The trial of Putin and relevant associates, should focus as in Nuremberg for commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and wars of aggression, indiscriminate bombing of cities, shelling people’s homes in violation of international treaties and agreements. 

Putin and associates should be put on trial. At this moment it is not as obvious as in the Nazi case which who and which of his associates are to be accused of commission or approval of crimes, but obvious suspects are some leading figures in the FSB, and in the Russian army, and defense ministry. They include the general who appears to have organized the invasion of Ukraine, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council, former head of FSB, successor to KGB, who probably ordered the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko  in London in November 2006, Valery Gerasimov , head  of the Russian army since  2012 and said to have interfered in U.S. presidential election in 2016, and  Mikhail Mishustin prime minister, former  tax police officer.

The parallel of Putin with the Nazi regime is more and more compelling.  We may never know Putin’s real intentions, just as we still cannot understand why Adolf Hitler declared war on the U.S., but a few instances reveal Nazi like behavior.  Putin has been responsible for bombing and rocket attacks against civilians, levelling cities to the ground, and atrocities.

In an event on March 1, 2022, one that is poignant, a Russian air strike on Kyiv hit  and damaged the nearby famous memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.  The memory is painful of Babyn (Babi) Yar Ravine, one of the worst mass murder sites in the War, Europe’s largest mass grave due to the Holocaust where estimates are about 34,000 Jews were murdered by the SS and local collaborators. Victims of the Holocaust have in essence been killed for a second time. Zelensky’s pertinent comment was, “What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site as Babyn Yar?” 

Putin must be considered a criminal, one who probably has a similar secret list of those enemies to be eliminated.  It is clear that he approved having a squad of 400 mercenaries, the Wagner Group, to kill President Zelensky and 23 others, including the Ukrainian prime minister, cabinet and others.  Wagner is the secret sinister arm of the GRU military intelligence, whose founder and leader is Dmitry Utkin, former colonel in Spetsnaz, Russian special forces. 

Ominously, the group took its name from Hitler’s favorite composer.  A ruthless organization, Wagner crushed the rebels against Assad in Syria in 2015.  Now run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, crony and “Putin’s chef,” who has a contract as caterer for the Russian army.  The Wagner Group tracks the Ukrainian leaders through Russian military equipment, mobile phones, and other tracking devices. It is technically a para-military organization, though closely connected with the Russian military and intelligence community, but its use allows Putin to escape attribution of its activities. Wagner took part in annexation of Crimea in 2014 and in the breakaway republics of Ukraine, and was involved in interfering in U.S. elections 2014-2018.

To the surprise of Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky’s response to his threats, and refusal to leave the Ukraine, have metamorphosized the president into the world’s  leading heroic man and the symbol of courage and strength. The Jewish Zelensky is aware of evil. His father was an academic, and his grandfather served in the Soviet infantry, and was a colonel in postwar Ukraine, but his great uncles and great grandfather perished in the Holocaust.

Zelensky now 44 years old had an acting and comedy career for twenty years. He became a star in a TV series, playing a history teacher who urges toleration and criticizes government corruption, in a political satire Servant of the People, 2015-2019, and paradoxically playing a fictional president.  He played the voice of the Ukrainian Bear in the 2014 film starring Hugh Bonneville, eight years before he confronted the real Russian bear. 

Videos just released show him dancing with a partner and winning in the first season of Strictly Come Dancing in 2006. He is an extraordinary attractive and dynamic figure, dressed in flamboyant outfits, pink suit, flared trousers, performing the paso doble, quickstep, waltz, blindfolded dance, in the completion. At that moment he exhibited more sex appeal than Justin Trudeau. 

The contrast of personalities is striking.  Zelensky, the marked man, the Jewish former comedian, defiant in his capital city, refusing to leave the country in spite of the threats of Wagner, is hunted  by the macho Putin,  who not only has a private military protection, but whose family  is said  to be  hidden in a high tech bunker in an underground city in Siberia, designed to survive a nuclear war.

Putin, 69 years old, is today a pariah on the world stage.  Tomorrow he should be tried in an international court of justice, the international criminal court, or a quasi- Nurnberg court and punished.  The modern social media provides ample evidence of his crimes against people and property, crimes against humanity. Never Again must mean Never Again.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said "about 4,000" Jews were killed at Babi Yar. This has been corrected to read "about 34,000...."

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