Bennett: Ukrainian refugees with relatives in Israel can stay until situation calms

Amid criticism over government’s policies, PM vows Israelis will ’embrace’ Jews fleeing Russian invasion, says Jerusalem will continue humanitarian and diplomatic efforts

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Israel will “embrace” Jews fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and will allow refugees who aren’t eligible for citizenship to stay until the situation has “calmed.”

Ukraine has about 43,300 people who self-identify as Jews and about 200,000 people eligible to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, according to a 2020 demographic study of European Jewry.

“Many Jews want to come to us from the war zones and the people of Israel will embrace them,” Bennett said during a ceremony in northern Israel.

“At the same time, Israel accepts Ukrainians fleeing the danger zone who have relatives in the country. We will allow them to stay here for as long as possible, until things have calmed.”

Bennett also referred to Israeli efforts to broker a ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow.

“We are involved in a major humanitarian effort and also in a diplomatic effort to bring [Ukraine and Russia] closer together, alongside other countries,” he said.

Jewish immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine, arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on March 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

There has been rising criticism of the government’s refugee policy, from both within and outside the government, particularly regarding caps on the numbers of refugees not eligible for citizenship to be allowed into Israel, as well as their treatment.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the No. 2 in Bennett’s Yamina party, announced Sunday that people who are fleeing Ukraine who have relatives in Israel will be exempt from a 25,000-person entry cap placed on refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Shaked’s announcement came after a petition was filed in the High Court over the weekend against the interior minister’s earlier policy. The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel backed the petition, which claims that the cap on refugee entries violates international agreements between Israel and Ukraine, as well as international conventions to which Israel is a party.

The UN estimates almost 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion, most of them to Poland, which is struggling to provide for the arrivals.

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