MKs claim discrimination against Soviet immigrants who want to marry

Immigrants’ eligibility for citizenship is reexamined when they want to marry non-Israelis.

An immigrant from the former Soviet Union speaks to the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
An immigrant from the former Soviet Union speaks to the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.
Israeli citizens who emigrated from R the former Soviet Union and want to marry partners from the FSU are subjected to a reexamination of their eligibility for citizenship, a practice flagged by several MKs at a meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs at the Knesset on Monday.
An Interior Ministry representative at the meeting defended the procedure, saying that it does not apply only to immigrants from the former Soviet Union but to every Israeli citizen who wishes to marry a foreign citizen, but several MKs and other participants of the meeting accused the ministry of discrimination against FSU immigrants.
A series of testimonies were given during the committee meeting regarding this procedure and the ministry’s treatment of immigrants from that region, provoking the ire of committee chairman Avraham Neguise.
“This is an outrageous and unlawful abuse. Anyone who has received Israeli citizenship has discretion with whom to marry, without a renewed examination by the Interior Ministry and certainly without the revocation of their citizenship,” Neguise said.
The discussion was initiated by Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovski, who was born in the former Soviet Union. She slammed the “disgraceful treatment” by ministry officials, whom she accused of making derogatory comments to immigrants, such as: “What are you bringing these Russians for? Aren’t there any girls in Israel?” She quoted another ministry official as having said: “I do not deal with these Russians.”
“This is abuse and humiliation of Israeli citizens who were born in the former Soviet Union. The procedures and regulations are vague,” she continued, noting that it is unclear if or when the Humanitarian Cases Committee of the Population and Immigration Authority operates.
Michael Chebonin, 34, told the committee that he had immigrated to Israel 26 years ago, but that the ministry had informed him that the state does not recognize him as a Jew and has for the past two years been preventing him from opening a “joint life” file with his Russian partner.
Attorney Chaya Mena, who represents him, emphasized that Chebonin immigrated in accordance with the Law of Return, but his spouse is not Jewish, and they wish to have a common- law marriage. “The Interior Ministry is acting without authority, and asked the couple to close the file quietly,” Mena said.
Alon Shalev, an Israeli native who married a Russian immigrant, accused ministry officials of “contempt, disinterest, refusal to receive documents and verbal abuse of civilians.” His wife is a “temporary resident,” and their children are still not recognized as citizens.
In another testimony, attorney Eitan Haezarchi related an account of an orphaned child whom the ministry is preventing from immigrating to Israel from Ukraine to reunite with his grandfather and grandmother.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer said the ministry has not increased its manpower in accordance with the increase of immigrants.
“There is a natural burden, and it is necessary to increase the number of interviewers at Ben-Gurion Airport, to simplify the procedures for children and to prohibit the separation of children from their parents,” he said.
Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razbozov, who made aliya from the FSU in 1991, said that “in an immigrant country that wants to absorb immigrants properly, the Interior Ministry and Nativ must add additional procedures so as not to create such a long line and a nerve-racking wait,” he said.
Amnon Shmueli, the director of Ben-Gurion Airport in the Population and Immigration Authority, replied that “the immigrants receive preferential treatment in our offices, but those who do not follow the procedures are faced with a new examination. We have to beware of a slippery slope and ensure that the people who come to live here do so lawfully. Any employees who demonstrate racism or any inappropriate treatment will be fired,” he added.
Attorney Rina Nesher of the authority’s legal bureau emphasized that citizenship checks are made for every citizen who seeks marriage with a foreign citizen, and this is examined and approved by the attorney-general.