Cabinet approves plan to absorb 100,000 olim from Ukraine, Russia

Field hospital for Ukraine approved with NIS 21 million budget • Bennett: We must give our brothers and sisters from Ukraine a warm welcome.

 Ukrainian refugees are seen arriving in Israel as part of Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (photo credit: Sraya Diamant/GPO)
Ukrainian refugees are seen arriving in Israel as part of Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022.
(photo credit: Sraya Diamant/GPO)

The cabinet on Monday approved a wide-ranging plan to absorb as many as 100,000 new immigrants who are expected to arrive from Ukraine and Russia.

The budget for an Israeli field hospital to be built in western Ukraine also received cabinet approval.

“The world is facing difficult, destabilizing times,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the opening of the cabinet meeting. “We are managing this complex crisis sensitively, responsibly and by trying to offer help as much as we can.”

The aid is offered to those immigrating to Israel under the Law of Return, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen of the Jewish state.

It includes aid for paying rent and renovating buildings owned by the Construction and Housing Ministry so that immigrants can live in them and searching for available housing for the short term, including former IDF bases.

  Ukrainian Jewish refugees arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022.  (credit: HADAS PARUSH) Ukrainian Jewish refugees arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022. (credit: HADAS PARUSH)

In addition, the government will work to increase the number of modular homes and ease the bureaucracy for establishing them, as well as making it easier to split large apartments into two to house immigrants.

The government will also examine the needs of local governments in education, welfare and more in towns that are absorbing immigrants.

“You belong with us, and the people of Israel are embracing you,” Bennett said, directing his remarks to the new olim at a memorial ceremony for Israeli pioneer Joseph Trumpeldor.

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is seen greeting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Israel through Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Noga Melasa/Aliyah and Integration Ministry) Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is seen greeting Ukrainian refugees arriving in Israel through Operation Israeli Guarantee, on March 6, 2022. (credit: Noga Melasa/Aliyah and Integration Ministry)

Israeli citizens should “give our brothers and sisters the warmest welcome,” he said, adding that Israel must ensure the olim have homes, employment, schools and more.

The cabinet meeting was marred by controversial comments by some ministers.

Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) accused her fellow ministers of displaying “hypocrisy of white people” for taking the wave of Ukrainian immigration seriously but not heeding her demand to immediately bring people who qualify under the Law of Return from Ethiopia to Israel.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivay (Yesh Atid) said Tamano-Shata’s remarks were racist.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) said mayors want to host Ukrainian refugees. In response, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) said some mayors only want Ukrainian women.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor) criticized Liberman on Twitter, saying she hoped such comments about women would never be made again.

In addition to helping those who qualify to immigrate under the Law of Return, “we will give humanitarian help to the citizens of Israel who are here temporarily for a few weeks or months until the situation calms down there,” Bennett said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting Ukrainian Jewish refugees arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022.  (credit: HADAS PARUSH)Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meeting Ukrainian Jewish refugees arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022. (credit: HADAS PARUSH)

“I see a lot of families that are hosting [refugees] in the near future, and that is very important,” he said.

On Sunday, Shaked announced Israel’s new policy, which permits anyone with a relative in Israel to temporarily seek refuge here. A separate quota will be established for Ukrainian refugees who do not have a relative in Israel.

“We are allowing them to stay with friends and family as long as they need until the war passes,” Bennett said Monday. “We are partners in the major humanitarian effort.”

Israel has sent planes full of humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s borders and established refugee aid centers, he said.

Bennett briefly mentioned his and others’ diplomatic efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, without elaborating.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a news conference for foreign media in Kyiv, Ukraine March 12, 2022. (credit: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS)

Israel’s change in policy was a result of talks between Kyiv and Jerusalem, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, tweeted, including between himself and National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata.

Also Monday, the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel wrote on Facebook about a petition to the Supreme Court to allow all Ukrainian nationals to seek refuge in Israel. The court set a hearing for next Sunday.

“The great urgency with which the Supreme Court acted confirms the importance of [a] balanced solution that should be taken... We hope that the Israeli government will reach a comprehensive decision that will open the country for the Ukrainians fleeing from the hostilities of war,” the embassy said.

The lawsuit was submitted when Israel was limiting to 25,000 the number of Ukrainian refugees who do not qualify to immigrate under the Law of Return. That policy also faced opposition within the cabinet.

Also on Monday, the cabinet approved a NIS 21 million budget for a field hospital to be built in western Ukraine.

The hospital will be equipped to serve 100 people per day and will include an emergency room, men’s, women’s and pediatric-care area, a maternity ward, a medical laboratory, an X-ray area and more.

The Foreign and Health ministries organized the hospital in cooperation with Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and additional funding from the Schusterman Family Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee.

“Not many countries are able to take such an initiative upon themselves,” Bennett said. “Israel has the ability, and we are doing it. This is important, and I am happy that we… are leading.”

He mentioned the field hospital in his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, KAN News reported.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.