Israeli government welcomes Azov Battalion leader as honored guest
Illia Samoilenko, a leader of the Azov Battalion, was a welcomed guest of the Israeli government in December. At left, Samoilenko is seen in his Azov uniform during fighting in Ukraine. Visible on the yellow patch on the center of his uniform is the wolfsangel, a medieval German symbol that was adopted by the Nazis and which was used by the Azov Battalion from 2014 until 2022. At right, Samoilenko, cleaned up and well-dressed, in Jerusalem in December 2022. | Photos via Twitter

As a non-religious, atheist Jew, I am not one to make many biblical references. However, reading the news that representatives of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion have been invited to tour Israel as part of a PR stunt for the Ukrainian government, I found myself remembering the words of Jeremiah: “Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean?”

I found myself thinking of my ancestors and the millions of Jews slaughtered at the hands of Nazis. What would they think if they could see a country that (falsely) claims to represent world Jewry inviting such a person as a welcomed guest? The red-carpet treatment given to the “hero” of the Azov Battalion, Illia Samoilenko, is an insult to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Up until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Azov Battalion was recognized the world over as a militant right-wing, violent organization with large numbers of Nazis and fascists among its members and within its leadership. In fact, the FBI considered the Azov Battalion as the center of the international Nazi movement. Militant right-wingers from around the world would travel to Ukraine to train with like-minded members of the battalion.

The Azov Battalion was founded in 2014 by the neo-Nazi group known as “Patriots of Ukraine” (today known as National Corps) to fight against ethnic Russians in the Eastern part of the country. Its troops have been accused of war crimes by the United Nations and a number of international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. They have routinely committed acts of violence against ethnic Russians, Roma, and Jews. In fact, in 2014, one of Kiev’s major rabbis told Jews to leave the country if possible because they were no longer safe.

The Azov Battalion never attempted to hide their Nazi roots. The battalion’s iconography consists of several Nazi logos, such as the Nazi Sonnenrad (otherwise known as the “Black Sun”).

However, once the Russian military invaded Ukraine, the United States and its allies decided that the Azov Battalion was a valuable ally in their anti-Russia crusade. They have since gone to great lengths to try and polish the turd that is the battalion’s reputation. Azov members routinely flank Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, as he is paraded around the world as some sort of folk hero. We are told that Azov members can’t be Nazis because they are standing next to the Jewish president of Ukraine, as if “tokenism” was ever a good cover for racists and chauvinists.

In the United States and Europe, corporate media outlets are full of articles and news stories trying to present Azov members as “the nice kind of Nazis.” Their members are flown around the world to give speaking tours, shake hands, and kiss babies.

Samoilenko openly admits that Azov was founded by Nazis, but says that they all left the battalion and that the origination has “grown up.” He hopes that the fact that the members of the unit still use Nazi symbols and slogans will go unnoticed.

Volunteers from the Azov Battalion hold a Ukrainian flag and give a fascist salute during a ceremony before being sent to fight in eastern Ukraine, in Kiev, on Aug.17, 2015. | Efrem Lukatsk / AP

The truth is that the Azov Battalion is still very much a Nazi organization. National Corps, the same far-right political group that founded Azov, is still its political head. National Corps leader Andriy Biletsky once called for a final crusade by the white races to defeat the “subhuman Jews.” National Corps, Azov Battalion, and their supporters venerate Stepan Bandera, the infamous Ukrainian collaborator who worked with the SS to slaughter Jews and Poles during the German occupation of Ukraine in World War II.

So why would Israel—a country with a majority Jewish population, whose government claims to represent world Jewry and justifies its existence by claiming Israel is needed to keep Jews safe from persecution—welcome a member of the Azov Battalion?

This shanda (Yiddish for disgrace or shame) should be a wake-up call to the Jews around the world that have been deceived into supporting Zionism and into thinking that the Israeli government cares about them and their safety. How can a country that openly welcomes Nazis and their friends into their midst be taken seriously as a protector of Jews?

This should also serve as a wake-up call to those who believe the Jerusalem government’s claims to represent world Jewry (a trope repeatedly used by Trump and other far-right politicians in the United States). The Jews of the world would not support rehabilitating Ukrainian Nazis. The Jews of the world would not want the memories of our ancestors slaughtered at the hands of the heroes of the Azov Battalion to be insulted by the welcoming of Nazis and their allies by a so-called Jewish government.

The Israeli government once funded and organized Nazi hunters. Today, it welcomes Nazi representatives as guests. What an embarrassment! What a shanda! Again, I must echo the words of Jeremiah, “Woe to you, O Jerusalem!”

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article represents the opinions of its author.


Amiad Horowitz
Amiad Horowitz

Amiad Horowitz studied at the Academy of Journalism and Communications at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics with a specific focus on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. His articles have appeared in National Herald India, People's World, TRANSCEND Media Service, The Hitavada (India), Northlines, and The Arabian Post.