‘Refugees welcome’: Hundreds protest in Tel Aviv in support of Ukrainians

Smaller demonstration takes place outside Interior Minister Shaked’s home, demanding Israel accept more people fleeing Russian invasion

Demonstrators protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2022. The sign says, "Jews do not expel refugees." (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2022. The sign says, "Jews do not expel refugees." (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Dozens of protesters called for accepting more Ukrainian refugees into Israel at a demonstration outside Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s home in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Hundreds more protested against the war and in favor of more Israeli support for Ukraine and refugees at a demonstration in central Tel Aviv at the same time.

The protesters at Shaked’s home held signs in Ukraine’s blue and yellow colors that said, “Refugees welcome,” and “A Jew does not expel a refugee.”

They cried out “Shame,” and “Shaked, wake up,” and called the minister a liar.

At the same time, close to 400 people protested at the Azraeli Junction in central Tel Aviv bearing signs that said, “Stop Putin,” and “Stop the war.”

“A million refugees lost their homes and their existing way of life. Children, women and adults,” the organizers said. “Their homes bombed, their dreams destroyed. Especially for us, we cannot shut our doors in their faces.”

The organizers of both protests said they represent a newly-established group called the Forum for the Absorption of Ukrainian Refugees.

Israel’s policy toward non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees has sparked turmoil and debate since Russia’s invasion began late last month.

Shaked said the country would allow some 20,000 Ukrainians who were residing in the country illegally or were on tourist visas before the invasion to remain, while also granting permits to a further 5,000 non-Jewish refugees escaping the war. All Jewish Ukrainians are allowed in and given citizenship under the Law of Return.

Shaked said Saturday night that the 5,000 cap had almost been reached.

Critics inside and outside of the country have slammed the policy as woefully insufficient.

During Monday’s cabinet meeting, left-wing members of the government are expected to push for raising the cap on the number of non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees allowed to stay in Israel.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

The Meretz party said its ministers will demand that Israel “give refuge to all refugees.”

“No quotas, without differentiation of religion, race, or gender,” the party said. “This is our basic duty as Israelis and human beings.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai will demand during the meeting that a ministerial committee be formed to decide on Israel’s refugee policy, Walla news reported.

“Israel doesn’t have a defined and clear immigration policy. The refugee crisis from Ukraine requires a government decision that is agreed upon by all the different elements of the government,” Shai said.

Shaked said Saturday that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was a “partner” in the decision to cap the number of non-Jewish Ukrainians allowed to stay in Israel.

Demonstrators protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In an interview with Channel 13 news, Shaked said determining immigration policy is under her “clear authority.”

Pressed further on Lapid’s role, Shaked said the two formulated the policy she announced Tuesday together.

“We built this proposal together,” she said.

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel on Saturday said it backed a petition to the High Court of Justice against Israel’s limitations on Ukrainian refugees.

The appeal argues that the government’s cap on refugee entries violates international agreements between the nations as well as international conventions to which Israel is a party, and was not imposed with proper authority.

Around 200 Ukrainian refugees have been turned away after arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, Channel 12 reported Friday.

Screenshot from Israeli Channel 12 footage, broadcast on March 10, 2022, of refugees from war in Ukraine waiting for hours in crowded conditions at Ben Gurion Airport. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Footage aired by the network showed large numbers of people inside one of the airport’s terminals, with young children sleeping on the floor and on a baggage carousel, as well as an elderly woman being treated after apparently fainting.

“Those images did not go over my head,” Shaked said, adding that she had spoken with “the relevant authorities to take care of the issue.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said that the mass of people and their treatment was due to several flights bringing refugees to the airport at the same time, causing congestion for officials.

Authorities have since moved those people whose entry has not yet been authorized to hotels.

An asylum-seeker named Lana Balavan told Channel 13 from her hotel room, “Our treatment at Ben Gurion airport was really terrible.”

“The supervisors were angry, yelling all the time,” she said. “Since yesterday I’m in a hotel, but I’d like to say it’s not like a hotel, it’s like jail. I can’t leave the room. It’s not allowed,” she said.

Another refugee, Ludmilla, told the network from her hotel room, “The way they received us was really not nice.”

“The inspector said things that were not nice. She yelled, raised her voice. She made me cry,” she said.

Channel 13 said dozens of Ukrainians were being houses at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv.

Over 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the war, with the majority going to neighboring Poland. Millions more are internally displaced.

Ukraine has consistently pressed Israel for more support during the conflict.

Israel has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including 100 tons of medical and cold-weather equipment flown out of Ben Gurion Airport last week. However, it has sought to walk a tightrope to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, the latter of which maintains a military presence in Syria and is negotiating Iran’s return to a nuclear deal.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has mediated between Ukraine and Russia, and on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed a summit in Jerusalem with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

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