Can Israel, Jewish Agency rescue tens of thousands of Russian Jews?

It is unclear how tens of thousands of Russian Jews and those who are eligible to make aliyah according to Israel’s Right of Return will arrive.

 A view shows a sign at the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia July 21, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)
A view shows a sign at the entrance to a Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in Moscow, Russia July 21, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA)

Senior government and Jewish Agency officials met on Thursday to determine the next step regarding immigration from Russia, in the midst of escalating tension there. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the conscription of 300,000 reserve soldiers, and has said Moscow will limit the exit from Russia of men between ages 18 and 65.

“For the first time since the war broke out in Ukraine, there is real concern regarding our situation,” a source in the Chabad Jewish community in Russia, who has always been very positive, said this week.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Israel Hayom while in New York that he has spoken to senior management of El Al in order to send more airplanes to Russia, so that more immigrants can board flights. Yet according to a source in the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata has been trying to get more flights to Russia for months without success because local authorities will not allow more flights into the country.

The Jewish Agency and the ministry have not disclosed the contents of Thursday’s discussion.

“Together with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman I am leading an effort to absorb as many olim as possible. No matter how many olim arrive, we will look after them and have already begun trying to secure hotels for their first landing in our country.”

Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata
 Portrait of Israeli minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) Portrait of Israeli minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

“Together with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, I am leading an effort to absorb as many olim as possible,” said Tamano-Shata. “No matter how many olim arrive, we will look after them and have already begun trying to secure hotels for their first landing in our country.”

Russian laws hampering Jewish Agency activity, flight issues

As previously reported, the Jewish Agency is abiding by Russian information laws and has not shared data about aliyah applicants with the main office in Israel since September 14. The Jewish Agency’s offices in Russia are in the midst of establishing a local call center that will serve those interested in making aliyah, instead of the service provided by the Agency’s global center in Jerusalem.

The Agency has put on paid leave 40 of its local employees in Russia who mainly facilitate the aliyah process from cities in Russia’s periphery. The Jewish Agency confirmed the information on Monday, and said it was in the midst of “a process of reorganization.”

In addition, the Agency’s global center has received 80,000 calls from Russia and Belarus, and 40,000 applicants have received approval to make aliyah. Over the past few months, approximately 2,000 new immigrants from Russia and Belarus have been arriving in Israel each month. These 40,000 future olim are ready to get on a plane to Israel, but all available flights for the next few months are full.

Western countries are not flying to Russia because of international sanctions. El Al is one of the only airlines that still flies to the country. Ynet claimed on Thursday that a flight from Russia to Israel with a connection in the United Arab Emirates costs NIS 23,000, or about $6,500.

It is unclear how tens of thousands of Russian Jews who are eligible to make aliyah according to Israel’s Right of Return will arrive if there are barely any flights, if the men are not able to leave, and if the Jewish Agency’s employees cannot operate.