Opinion |

Israel's Rich Must Share the Burden of Housing Ukrainian Refugees

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ukrainians at Ben Gurion Airport, on Sunday.
Ukrainians at Ben Gurion Airport, on Sunday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The argument over absorbing refugees in Israel revolves around national issues, according to the right, or racism, according to the left. Consequently, the traditional paradigms are (once again) being imposed on a bloody reality, in a furious debate that has no point aside from honing the polarization between the blocs.

So far, around 5,000 people eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return have arrived here (from both Ukraine and Russia). Most are living with relatives, and a minority has been housed in hotels. But that number is expected to grow to 15,000 within the next few days and to 50,000 within three months.

Democracy or Putin: 'Israel must choose a side in Ukraine'

The state plans to put them in public-housing apartments and neighborhoods of prefab homes set up especially for the purpose, and also to give them financial aid to help them rent apartments. Presumably, none of these housing solutions will be in the well-off neighborhoods of metropolitan Tel Aviv, the cities of the Sharon region or Haifa’s Carmel neighborhoods, but in development towns and other communities on the periphery that already suffer from neglect and lack of access to Israel’s economic and cultural center, or else in settlements, which will beef up their demographics with people who have no choice.

But the immigrants’ situation will still be better than that of the 6,500 Ukrainians who aren’t eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return. The state is treating them like tourists who will stay here for at most three months, the duration of the visa they have received.

Most are living with the Israelis who “invited” them and posted financial guarantees on their behalf; some are in hostels. The Interior Ministry’s policy toward them, as of now, is to provide food and clothing, and that’s it.

It’s impossible to know what each new day will bring with the crazy situation the world is trapped in. The war in Ukraine could serve as a gateway to a world war that would last for months, if not years, and create a huge number of refugees who won’t be able to return home. A minority of them will continue coming to Israel.

What is the state’s long-term plan for them? If it doesn’t make arrangements to provide them with health insurance, work permits, schooling for their children and a serious social support system, the state is guaranteeing the creation of a troubled community that will presumably find its way to Israel’s ghettos of poverty. These ghettos have already been filled for years with asylum seekers who live like ghosts with no rights on the margins of Israeli society.

Israel obviously has to accept people in such terrible distress – both those entitled to immigrate under the Law of Return and those who aren’t. It has to absorb them not because of the memory of the Holocaust or other historical and sentimental arguments, but because it’s the right thing to do, morally and as human beings.

But the demands made by leftists, who come mainly from society’s wealthiest strata, are also frequently tainted by blindness toward fellow Israelis who are economically and socially worse off. It’s the latter who have historically borne the scars of absorbing foreign refugees and migrants in their neighborhoods.

Without an organized, comprehensive government policy to disperse the refugees among every level of society and provide assistance tailored specifically to them, there’s no reason why members of the weaker classes, who are already in distress, should agree to suffer once again.

Anyone who blathers on about the danger that Ukrainian babies pose to the state’s Jewish character is a populist who’s trying to reap political capital among potential right-wing voters by feeding their anxiety. But to portray people who are afraid of the costs of absorbing additional asylum seekers – the residents of South Tel Aviv, Eilat and other places where the state has dumped traumatized, impoverished asylum seekers without appropriate assistance in the past – as malicious racists is itself inhumane.

Universal morality shouldn’t stand opposed to social solidarity with one’s own countrymen, especially the weakest of them. Quite the contrary; such solidarity is the pillar that holds up the canopy of the left’s values.

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