Israel's Diaspora Minister Calls for Unrestricted Entry of non-Jewish Ukrainians

Accusing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of 'playing games,' Nachman Shai says Israel 'should behave like all the European countries, none of them set any limits'

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Israel must not set any limits on the number of displaced Non-Jewish Ukrainians it allows into the country, Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai said on Wednesday, accusing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of baselessly framing humanitarian efforts as a demographic threat.

“We should behave like all the European countries, none of them set any limits. The word limit is not mentioned anywhere,” Shai told Haaretz by phone from Warsaw, following a visit to the Ukrainian-Polish border the previous day.

Calling Shaked’s rhetoric on refugees “baseless,” Shai said there was “no reason to be concerned” about a large influx of eastern European refugees, stating that such claims were “just a way to scare the Israeli public.”

“I’m coming from the border. I don’t think Shaked has been to the border and seen who is coming and how and where they are going,” he declared.

Even if Israel opens its doors to non-Jewish Ukrainians, the number who arrive will likely be relatively small and restricted to relatives and friends of Israel who will be looking for a temporary refuge and have a vested interest in returning to Europe to reunite with relatives they left behind.

“There’s no concern of thousands of refugees coming to Israel while other European countries offer them a package with a place to sleep, food and even a small salary in some cases,” he explained, noting that those fleeing are primarily women and children leaving behind husbands and sons who, being eligible for conscription, are not allowed out of Ukraine.

Israel is willing to accept 5,000 non-Jewish refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, Shaked announced on Tuesday, adding that about 20,000 Ukrainians who had been in the country before the war began will not be deported for now.

According to the latest figures by the Population and Immigration Authority, 2,519 Ukrainians who aren't eligible for aliyah arrived in Israel so far since February 24, when the Russian invasion began. That means that less than 2,500 Ukrainian refugees will be allowed in the country as of Shaked's announcement.

It is clear, Shaked told a press briefing, "that we can't take in Ukrainians without any limits," calling the revised policy "responsible."

However, Shai took issue with the interior minister’s pronouncement, telling Haaretz that reclassifying who were already in Israel as refugees was “playing games.”

“They are refugees in retrospect because when they came to Israel there was no war, and they were not refugees and up to a week ago they were illegal aliens,” he said. “It’s not reality.”

Saying that he saw his own grandparents in the faces of the refugees, Shai said that Israel was obligated to lend a hand.

“This is a Jewish imperative. This is an Israeli imperative. This is a human imperative,” he said. “This is Tikkun Olam.”

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