Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told ministers on Thursday that Israel must “open its doors and hearts” to Ukrainian Jewish refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the war entered its 15th day with no end in sight.
His comments came during a cabinet meeting in which he officially announced the launch of the “Oliym Habaytah” (Coming Home) operation to help Jews from Ukraine and other former Soviet countries immigrate to Israel.
“This is an important moment, a moment we were destined for and to which the State of Israel was established,” Bennett said.
“The great mission is to open the doors, to open the hearts, to receive our brothers and sisters fleeing a difficult war. Make sure that their immigration and absorption will be as smooth as possible, a reception that will soften even a little the trauma they are experiencing, an inconceivable trauma — to uproot yourself within hours or days and move to a far and different country.”
But footage circulating on Wednesday and Thursday in Israeli news outlets showed harsh conditions for Ukrainian refugees forced to wait in Ben Gurion International Airport for hours — if not days — without basic necessities.
Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said at the cabinet meeting that the situation is untenable, and must be dealt with immediately, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced hours later that any waiting refugees would be transferred to a hotel.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Bennett said that Israel must also prepare for “the day after immigration.”
“The immigrants will need a place to live, jobs, education, and health. One of the things I have been able to do in recent days is talk to immigrants from previous waves of immigration and hear from them what their experiences were and what the failures were, so that we can try to do it better,” he added.
His comments came after Shaked said Tuesday that Israel expects to see up to 100,000 Jewish arrivals from Ukraine and Russia in the coming months. A significant increase in immigration from Russia has yet to be seen, but Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that they are preparing for such a wave.
The UN estimates that more than 2 million people have fled Ukraine so far, the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II.
Bennett also spoke on Thursday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the conflict.
The two discussed the war between Russia and Ukraine, as well as efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian citizens in and out of the country, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.