President of Eastern Partnership Institute on Jerusalem


Last week, a rather strongly-worded statement from an Israeli political scientist caused quite a public outcry. Jerusalem-based and long-time Caucasus analyst, Avraham Shmulevich, President of the Eastern Partnership Institute, who also happens to be a Rabbi, did nothing to hide his dissatisfaction as Georgia elected to stay mum and not voice support for President Trump’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

“If Georgia is declaring that in an issue of paramount importance to Israel, one of its capital cities, they are guided only by a “pragmatic approach” and consideration of the positions of their other “partners,” Turkey and Iran, sworn enemies of the Israeli state, then we, Israelis, should also only be guided by pragmatic thought in all matters concerning Georgia. No unconditional international support to Georgia, including on the issue of territorial integrity. If next time Russia decides to swallow Georgia whole, it won’t be Israel’s problem any longer.”

Why does Shmulevich compare the issue of Jerusalem with the recognition of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali? GEORGIA TODAY and Panorama TV show contacted the man to find out.

Your statement wasn’t received in Georgia too kindly. Many thought it was political blackmail

It’s not political blackmail. I believe that in politics there exists morality. In politics, there exists a particular relationship between countries. In modern Russia, they say that in politics there’s no morality, only pragmatism. I don’t agree. Countries in friendly relations take into account each other’s interests. For Israel, the issue of Jerusalem is a matter of life and death. Modern Israel emerged as a movement for the rebirth of the Jewish State, which was destroyed during the struggle against the Roman Empire. It seems that in Georgia, they should understand this. According to the Georgian chronicles, Jews arrived in Georgia 2,600 years ago after the destruction of the first temple. But I hear Georgian politicians and Georgian journalists say that there should be only pragmatic relations and these relations should be guided by the interests of Georgia. If this is the case, then we’ll be guided by our interests [too]. Actually, those who stood against the proposal of the Georgian MP said that Israel, for Georgia, is like Uruguay or New Zealand. It’s natural to expect that for Israel Georgia will also “be like Uruguay or New Zealand.” I don’t think that opposing Trump’s initiative corresponds to the interests of Georgia, because Trump said it’s just an accomplished fact and one does not need to proceed from political reality. I think it’s a very important principle, as many boundaries existing in the modern world fail to correspond to the political reality. There’s a fact not being recognized by international law. It also has to do with the borders of the South Caucasus, including in relation to the occupied territories of Georgia. I recently talked with an American who is engaged in determining the US foreign policy. We talked about Abkhazia. He said that Abkhazia will not go back to Georgia and that’s an accomplished fact. I told him that it’s immoral, that there’s the issue of Georgian refugees in Abkhazia. He responded that there are many refugees globally who will never get their homes back. At the time, I opposed him but, actually, I had only moral arguments. If Georgia does not support the territorial integrity of Israel, the return of the historical land of Israel, why should I have a moral obligation to support the Georgian point of view, because the issue of Jerusalem will be followed by other issues.

According to your logic, Israel doesn’t recognize Abkhazia and Ossetia because of its relationship with Georgia, not because it’s unacceptable that in the 21st century one country is annexing and occupying another

I’m not an employee of Israeli state agencies nor do I consult with Israeli state institutions. What I am saying is my personal point of view. I’m not responsible for the position of Israel which recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be a part of Georgia. In this regard, the position of Israel does not differ from the position of the USA. Israel does not recognize the annexation or the separation of these regions and considers it to be an act of aggression. Such issues may be resolved either in terms of pragmatism or morality. In terms of morality, Israel is entitled to claim Jerusalem. We struggle for our existence. Trump, in his speech, underlined that one should not proceed from the reality of international law. If Georgia or any other state thinks it can be guided only by pragmatism in relation to Israel, then why should Israel be guided by other considerations?

You seriously compare Israel and its capabilities to Georgia and what it can do?

The possibilities of Israel are much greater. It would be useful for Georgia to have Israel, the Jewish lobby, as a sincere friend. Some issues will be put in a vein not favorable for Georgia. Already have been. There was a harsh statement about Georgia in Congress.

As a scholar of the Caucasus, you must be aware that had Georgia recognized Jerusalem, there would be a risk of Arab countries retaliating and recognizing Abkhazia and Ossetia in return

I don’t think Arab countries will recognize Abkhazia. It’s not that simple. It’s a very difficult game. It was not about Georgia recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I was upset by the harsh response from Georgia society concerning this statement. Behind-the-scenes negotiations about the future of the seized Georgian territories are underway. The main player here is Russia and not the USA. The political map will be changed. All the frozen conflicts, the redivision of boundaries that exist in reality, will be recognized. This process has already been launched. We saw this process in Kurdistan. Trump’s statement legitimizes this process.

And when this particular reality comes to be, you say Israel will support Russia?

Of course, it shouldn’t. I personally oppose Russia’s aggression. On the other hand, we should understand that in the behind-the-scenes trade, which is underway, there will be some arguments and we should determine which way we adhere to: the way of pragmatism or the way of morality and particular relations. Jerusalem belongs to Israel like Tskhinvali belongs to Georgia.

And what about, say, Turkey? Like Israel, it’s also a strategic partner for Georgia. What you offer means making a choice between two partners

No, I offer nothing. Sometimes the art of diplomacy is not to make a choice. In this case, it’s merely a set of instruments. If you think that that you can say that Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, then maybe it lifts some moral obligations.

Concerning morals – you wrote on Facebook that, “Selling weapons to Georgia was a mistake. We should have supported Russia instead.” Considering that you’ve been lecturing in Tbilisi, at Ilia State University, which means that the Georgian state paid you, do you find making such statements morally justifiable?

If Georgia thinks it can purchase arms in other countries, it can. At that time, Russia pressurized Israel to stop providing military assistance to Georgia. It didn’t happen. It brought us many problems. Israel supported Georgia. We armed and prepared the Georgian army.

If you say that you must be guided by pragmatic considerations, as they write to me that Georgia has obligations before Iran and Turkey, why do you think Israel would take another position? During the war, I supported Georgia. I say again that it was an act of aggression on the part of Russia. We should understand that good relations with Israel are not something given by default. There should be reciprocity. The interests of Israel should be taken into account as Israel takes into account the interests of Georgia. The issue of Jerusalem is the most important issue for Israel. It’s like Russia stating its claim on Tbilisi.

Where does that comparison come from? How have you arrived at that conclusion?

If you think that the Palestinians have any rights to Jerusalem, it’s an extremely anti-Israeli statement and you don’t differ from Turkey.

Georgia, as an ancient nation, should have a sense of history. Once, Russia conquered Tbilisi. In the same way, Arabs once conquered Jerusalem. One event happened 560 years ago and the other 1,500 years ago. Jews came to Georgia after the seizure of Jerusalem by Babylonians. Other nations, less ancient than ours, don’t have such historical memory at all.

Vazha Tavberidze

27 December 2017 18:23