The Israeli authorities have set a cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees that it is prepared to accept. The government said that it would only accept 25,000 immigrants who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship; in other word, who are not Jews. After much criticism, it decided to accept some non-Jewish migrants who have relatives in Israel, said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. Refugees are being asked to sign a document committing themselves to leaving Israel once the situation in Ukraine allows it.
Shaked justified the cap by saying that 25,000 was a lot for a country that does not border Ukraine, particularly given Israel’s size. Previous remarks that Israel is preparing to receive 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine and Russia seem to have nullified that argument.
For Shaked and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Russian war in Ukraine is an opportunity that they were waiting for. Bennett told his cabinet last week that Israel must “open its doors and hearts” to Ukrainian Jews fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country. According to the Times of Israel, Bennett announced the launch of “Operation Oliym Habaytah” (Coming Home) to get Jews from Ukraine and other former Soviet states to migrate to Israel.
The Israeli prime minister said that Israel was created to collect Jews in a Jewish national state. “This is an important moment, a moment we were destined for and for which the State of Israel was established,” Bennett was reported as saying. He thus reiterated Israel’s — indeed, Zionism’s — inherent racism against non-Jews fleeing the same war in the same country.
On Wednesday and Thursday last week, Israeli media showed the harsh conditions facing Ukrainian refugees forced to wait in Ben Gurion International Airport for hours — if not days — without basic necessities. Some of the refugees, it was reported, were left for days without being given adequate food or a suitable place to rest. This happened despite Shaked’s words about Israel’s readiness to receive 100,000 refugees.
“The great mission is… to receive our brothers and sisters fleeing a difficult war,” insisted Bennett. It is time, he continued, for officials to work to full capacity to make sure that the immigration and absorption of Ukrainian Jews “will be as smooth as possible” and to give them “a reception that will soften even a little the trauma they are experiencing.” After criticism of the cap on the number of immigrants, Bennett wrote on Twitter, “The mission of the State of Israel is to be a safe home for all Jews in distress.”
Shaked announced that Ukrainians who are not eligible for citizenship but have Israeli relatives will be allowed to stay in the country, but not indefinitely. An Israeli official from the Population and Immigration Authority was reported by the Times of Israel as saying that Israel does not want to let through some of those who have already arrived at the airport, because, “If they get in, they won’t leave.”
Israeli TV and social media showed footage of one refugee speaking to a relative. She was told by Israeli border officials that she and her family will be allowed to enter Israel “only after some weeks” and that she must return to Ukraine in the meantime.
Israel is finding it hard to prove that it is not a racist state. Racism is a major characteristic of the state created to cater for a specific ethnic group. As far as Ukrainian refugees are concerned, it is not their state of choice for migration. Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, said on Friday that most Ukrainian refugees are unlikely to want to remain in Israel once the war is ended.
“Israel is not the easiest place to come or the most comfortable place to be,” he told Channel 12 news. “[It is] one of the most expensive countries in the world.”
The ambassador was critical of Israel’s self-righteous pride in what it is offering non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees. “Given that most of the European countries are providing shelter, food, work permits, education for children and so on, just what is Israel talking about?”
No matter how hard it tries, Israel cannot abandon its inherent racism, even during times of crisis. The Palestinians have known this to their cost on a daily basis for the past seventy plus years.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.