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Israel approves NIS 90 million for absorbing immigrants from Russia amid Ukraine war

Funds to go toward housing, employment, education and health services for new arrivals, as Israel sees most significant immigration wave from Russia since USSR’s collapse

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Russian immigrants attend an event marking the 25th anniversary of the major wave of aliya from the former Soviet Union to Israel, at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on December 24, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Russian immigrants attend an event marking the 25th anniversary of the major wave of aliya from the former Soviet Union to Israel, at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on December 24, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The government on Sunday approved a NIS 90 million (over $25 million) budget for absorbing Russian Jewish immigrants arriving in Israel, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The approved funds will go toward providing additional housing solutions for immigrants, employment assimilation, education, health services and other basic requirements to aid those who arrive in haste and with little to no preparation.

Israeli officials have also indicated their intention to bolster the number of flights between Moscow and Tel Aviv, as well as to find ways to facilitate the transfer of assets out of Russia.

According to data from Ministry of Aliyah and Immigration Absorption, some 24,000 Jewish immigrants have moved to Israel since Russia launched the war in Ukraine on February 24, the most significant wave of immigration from there since hundreds of thousands of people moved to the Jewish state as the Soviet Union collapsed over 30 years ago.

The ministry believes many additional immigrants are due to arrive in the coming months, partly due to Russia’s “partial mobilization” of reservists as its military faces setback in Ukraine.

The new funds are part of an initiative led by Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to prepare for the immediate arrival of immigrants from Russia.

Illustrative photo: Russian immigrants make their way off the plane that brought them to Israel in 1990 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“The State of Israel is a safe haven for every Jew in the world and their migration to Israel, no matter the cause, lifts the spirit,” Tamano-Shata said in a statement.

“The Immigration and Absorption Ministry led by me will ensure that all Russian immigrants arriving in Israel these days under challenging circumstances will receive the holistic care they need to fully integrate into the Israeli society as quickly as possible,” she added.

Liberman echoed Tamano-Shata, saying, “The Finance Ministry will spare no expense allowing Jews and those eligible by the Law of Return to make aliyah” — the Hebrew word for immigration.

He added that “aliyah is a strategic asset for the State of Israel and the greatest growth engine we’ve had since the state was established.”

Later on Sunday, a meeting of the aliyah cabinet led by Tamano-Shata approved an “express aliyah” program for those arriving from Russia. The expedited process will allow immigrants to have their aliyah approved before having to undergo an eligibility check, which they will complete once they have arrived in Israel. The ministry expects approximately 40,000 immigrants to arrive in the next six months.

The Jewish Agency will also open centers in Azerbaijan and Finland to assist Russians wishing to migrate.

Doron Almog, chair of the Jewish Agency, said on Sunday that the organization was in need of NIS 300,000 ($84,000) in order to aid the predicted wave of immigrants. The body has already received NIS 200,000 ($56,000) in order to facilitate immigration from Ukraine.

Almog suggested that old absorption centers across the country be renovated and reopened to deal with the influx. The plan has yet to be approved.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, left, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, right, after approving a NIS 90 million budget that will go toward absorbing immigrants from Russia, October 2, 2022. (Immigration and Absorption and Finance Ministries)

The preparations for further immigration from Russia come as openly anti-Jewish rhetoric is entering the country’s mainstream media while Russia’s war effort in Ukraine founders, with a popular talk show host naming Jews, on air, as being insufficiently patriotic and a think tank accusing a prominent Jewish philosopher of siding with Ukraine out of greed.

Nearly 200,000 Jews are estimated to now live in Russia, though roughly three times as many are eligible for Israeli citizenship, having at least one Jewish grandparent.

In a Rosh Hashanah greeting issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, the president called on Russian Jews to make a “hefty contribution” to the country’s multiethnic identity. When he rose to power 22 years ago, Putin cracked down on the open antisemitism that nearly all of his predecessors had either encouraged, tolerated or ignored.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the Kremlin’s desire to tighten the screws on Jewish immigration, Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a petition to a Moscow court in July to liquidate the offices of the Jewish Agency for Israel — the semi-governmental organization which encourages and facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel.

Though the trial officially opened in July, it has not progressed significantly over the past two months, with all of the hearings ending in postponements. The Moscow court will next hear the case on October 19.

Judah Ari Gross and The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

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