Russia-Ukraine war: Israel to admit any Ukrainian with a relative living in Israel

The foreign minister emphasized Israel’s condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine during a visit to Bucharest.

 Israeli Foreign Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli Foreign Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The government will allow Ukrainians with a relative in Israel into the country, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Sunday, marking a shift in policy.

Ukrainians with Israeli relatives will be able to stay “for a month or two to rest” and will have to sign a statement that they don’t intend to remain, she said.

A separate quota will be established for Ukrainian refugees who do not have a relative in Israel, according to the visa-free agreement between Kyiv and Jerusalem before Russia attacked Ukraine.

“Despite all those who attack me, I do not forget that we are, first and foremost, the national home of the Jewish people, and we will put most of our efforts into those who qualify [to immigrate] under the Law of Return,” Shaked said.

“I say to all the critics, go to Terminal 1 [in Ben-Gurion Airport] and see how hundreds of new immigrants arrive each day,” she said. “Today, 450 arrived. These are people who fled the battles and also qualify [to immigrate] under the Law of Return, and we are absorbing them and making them citizens.”

“No other country is dealing with so much immediate absorption,” she added.

Israel has prepared to absorb 100,000 Ukrainians under the Law of Return, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel.

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on 3/6/2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on 3/6/2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid supported an expansion of the refugee policy.

“We will not close our gates and our hearts to people who lost their whole world,” he said Sunday at the Siret border crossing between Romania and Ukraine. “We have a moral duty to be part of the international effort to help Ukrainian refugees find a warm home and a bed in which to sleep. It is our duty to not only be good Jews, but also good people.”

Lapid joined other members of the cabinet who criticized the policy Shaked announced last week, which limited the number of Ukrainian refugees entering the country who do not qualify under the Law of Return to 25,000, including nearly 20,000 of them who are already in Israel. He criticized the policy despite being one of the ministers involved in formulating it.

“In Israel, we have nine million residents, and our Jewish identity will not be hurt by a few thousand more refugees,” he said. “Our children will learn an important lesson in morals and responsibility.”

At the same time, Lapid said Israel could not absorb tens of thousands of non-Jewish refugees, and he called for a “balanced and measured” policy.

“We can let more refugees in,” he said. “We can and must be more generous, [but] we cannot allow refugees in without limits. The government will find the balance.”

The policy remains problematic, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said after Shaked’s announcement.

“No other country has imposed limits on refugees,” he said. “This framework is still problematic, and we are again restricting the arrival of refugees and making a distinction between those who have family in Israel and those who do not.”

“As I have said again and again in recent days, Israel must take a broader and more active role in the humanitarian effort to rescue Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war,” he added. “This is the ethical and human act that we must carry out.”

Earlier, Lapid visited a Jewish Agency center in Bucharest, where he told Jews gathered there that Israel is their home.

“That is why the State of Israel was established, for moments like this, to ensure that there will not be one Jew in the world with nowhere to go,” he said. “When you land at Ben-Gurion Airport, something strange will happen, and you will feel at home.”

Lapid said although he was not happy about the circumstances that led them to move to Israel, he welcomes them to the country.

Lapid was briefed by Jewish Agency Deputy Director-General Yehuda Stone, who is managing the efforts to help thousands of Ukrainian Jews make their way to Israel. The center in Bucharest was established in recent weeks after the Russian invasion began. it is one of four in which a total of 1,000 Jewish refugees from Ukraine live.

Lapid emphasized Israel’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during his visit to Bucharest on Sunday.

“Israel is like Romania. We condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said after meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu. “[The invasion] has no justification, and we call on Russia to stop the shooting and the attacks and solve the problems around the negotiating table.”

Israel will help reach a peaceful solution in any way it can, Lapid said.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of his ongoing mediation efforts between Ukraine and Russia.

“We are in full coordination with our ally, the US, and our European partners to try to end this violent tragedy as quickly as possible,” Lapid said.

Romania has helped Israel save lives by aiding in the evacuation through the Siret border crossing of residents of the Jewish children’s home in Odessa, children with cancer who went to Israel for medical care and thousands of refugees, he said.