Diaspora Ministry official calls for expanded aid to Ukraine Jews

Israeli government funds have been used for the rehabilitation of refugees through a partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

January 19, 2015 06:33
2 minute read.

A Jewish woman sits in a refugee camp in Zhitomir, Ukraine, last year. (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)

The Diaspora Affairs Ministry will likely push for further aid to Jews displaced by the Ukrainian civil war, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Last October, the ministry earmarked NIS 2 million for refugee relief in the former Soviet republic, marking a turnaround for the Jewish state, which had been accused by Ukrainian Jewish leaders of taking a distinctly laissez-faire attitude to the crisis.

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So far, Israeli government funds have been used for the rehabilitation of refugees through a partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). As the situation in the regions of eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian separatists worsens, the budget is becoming stretched, said a ministry official who just returned from the country.

“It’s not enough, but as you know there is never [such a thing as] enough,” the source, who declined to be named, told the Post.

While organizations such as the JDC, the Claims Conference, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the Chabad movement have together poured millions of dollars into aid efforts, many of the internally displaced will remain under the poverty line without additional Israeli aid, she asserted.

Between a rising civilian death toll and the combination of a harsh winter and blasted infrastructure, it is likely that “there will be another wave of refugees – and more aid will be needed.”

“The State of Israel and the ministry see a responsibility for every Jew who lives in the Diaspora,” the official said.

“We see it as our responsibility to guard them as much as possible. I very much hope that beyond the budget that we have for this emergency project we will expand [our aid] and help more because it is never enough.”

The source added that the war could conceivably continue for months or even years, and that many of the thousands of Jews displaced by the fighting have been unable to obtain employment or housing, making them dependent on continued assistance.

“Because more people are coming it shrinks the budget more and more – not even every day but every hour we have more people,” she said. “The rabbis working in Ukraine are asking for assistance – the budget is not elastic.”

Because there is currently no government budget for 2015, any further funds for aid would have to be obtained by way of the Finance Ministry’s exceptions committee, she said.

When queried about how further efforts in Ukraine would be funded, a spokesman said “the ministry is looking into the resources needed to continue the project.”

The ministry’s aid program has been greeted warmly by Ukrainian Jewish leaders struggling to keep pace with the worsening situation in their country.

Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich told the Post last year the funding was indicative of “a big shift in the policy of the Israeli government.”

Jerusalem is “taking responsibility for a Diaspora community – not only to make aliya,” he said.

At least 1,310 Jews came to Israel from Donetsk and Luhansk, the central population centers of the rebel-held territory, from January to November last year – an increase of 1,000% over the same period in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency.

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