One-third of Russian olim left Israel after 1 month with new passport, cash

Russian olim were given the same benefits as Ukrainian olim who are considered refugees even though the Russians are not considered refugees.

 REFUGEES FROM Ukraine and Russia board their aliyah flight at Chisinau Airport. (photo credit: BRIAN SCHRAUGER)
REFUGEES FROM Ukraine and Russia board their aliyah flight at Chisinau Airport.
(photo credit: BRIAN SCHRAUGER)

Some 1,800 of the Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel over the last two months since the war began have returned to Russia with their new Israeli passports, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata learned the extent of the abandonment over the last week. A senior official in the ministry said the minister “was shocked by the abandonment data,” and cited it as the antithesis of Israel’s generosity toward the Russian olim. The official noted that 5,600 Russian beneficiaries of the Law of Return immigrated to Israel over the past two months as part of Operation: Returning Home. They traveled on flights funded by the Israeli government, received an envelope with cash upon landing, and then took a taxi to a hotel, all fully subsidized by the Israeli taxpayer.

In the same hotel, where most stayed for about a month, a variety of services were offered to them, including banking, social, and medical services, privileges that ordinary immigrants are not entitled to. These olim from Russia were compared to refugees from the devastated Ukraine, and were treated as such.

“The information we received was that Russian Jews feel that the Iron Curtain is expected to come down again, so we decided to allow them these special benefits,” said a senior official in the aliyah ministry. “But when a third of those immigrants take advantage of the kindness of the State of Israel and then leave in order to continue living in Russia, this is a serious problem.”

Tamano-Shata has decided to bring the proffered hotel accommodations to an immediate halt. At the same time, she ordered that special cases – such as pensioners, Holocaust survivors and sick people – are to be admitted to these hotels.

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata visits the Israeli aid delegation in Ukraine. (credit: KOHAV MEIR FIELD HOSPITAL) Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata visits the Israeli aid delegation in Ukraine. (credit: KOHAV MEIR FIELD HOSPITAL)

“It should be understood that some of the immigrants from Ukraine come only with the clothes on their backs, while the immigrants from Russia are not in the same situation,” the ministry said. “The very fact that many of them returned to Russia after arriving here illustrates how much they are not refugees at all.”

Senior officials at national institutions explain that there is a serious problem with immigration from Russia for two reasons: first is that many immigrants have nowhere to live in Israel, now that the hotels are not available for them when they arrive. The second is that there are no accessible flights to Israel.

Since Aeroflot stopped flying to Israel, the only company that operates flights on this route is El Al. The price of an El Al ticket from Moscow to Israel can reach a thousand dollars, four times the price before the war. Making matters worse is that it is near impossible to find a seat on those flights. As such, the ministry decided to integrate Israir Airlines into the Moscow-Tel Aviv route, so that there would be accessible flights for future immigrants.

A source in the national institutions revealed that there are about 3,000 returnees and immigrants waiting to immigrate to Israel from Russia, and that there’s a “crazy bottleneck” in the ability to immigrate to Israel from Russia.

Roughly 1,100 of these awaiting immigrants have received an aliyah visa, and about 1,900 have received an initial permit to come to Israel. Upon arrival, they will be checked for eligibility to remain in the country, and then decide whether to keep them in Israel or return them to Russia.

Former MK Oded Forer’s Passports Law enacted in 2017 allowed new immigrants to receive their passports within three months, instead of the year-long wait. However, even the three months waiting period could be circumvented by signing a form, in which the immigrant agrees to lose his right to citizenship during this period.

Those eligible for the Law of Return in Russia and other former Soviet Union countries have realized the potential that this law offers them. Many companies published advertisements on Russian-speaking sites and even billboards, offering Israeli citizenship within mere days.

The ministry has not yet concluded the reason for the immigrants’ immediate departure, but they are working to resolve the situation.

It should be noted that in the first month of the operation, there was a great deal of chaos in some of the hotels. The situation has only recently begun to stabilize. Col. Golan Wach, who serves as commander of the national rescue unit, has been appointed project manager on behalf of Tamano-Shata in managing the hotel system throughout the country.

This week, the 15,000th immigrant landed in Israel.