Nighttime at the Population and Immigration Authority counter at Ben-Gurion Airport. Dozens of people are waiting nervously. Just a few hours ago, their relatives had fled Ukraine, and now they are standing there and trying to understand how the system works. Their Israeli relatives have checks and bank guarantees, but this isn’t always enough. “This is a disgrace. I don’t mind paying, just let them enter,” one said. Another added, “Fortunately, I can pay the guarantee, but what about someone who can’t?”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described this crying shame as “a Beit Hillel policy,” referring to the Talmudic school known for being more lenient than its rival, Beit Shammai. Yet this policy, which is meant to defend the purity of Jewish bloodlines, requires all refugees to prove that they have an Israeli relative who invited them; if there is no such relative, they have to prove they will not settle in Israel. Moreover, the host is required to deposit a guarantee of 10,000 shekels ($3,100) on the refugee’s behalf and promise that the guest will leave the country within a month if that refugee is not a first degree relative. If this is Beit Hillel, you have to wonder what a Beit Shammai approach would look like.
The number of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives has already reached around a million. But at a time when many countries worldwide have agreed to accept Ukrainians with no conditions, and Poland and Slovakia are absorbing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians with no documents and no guarantees, Israel is still sifting through them. A country that never stops reminding the world that many countries didn’t help Jewish refugees during World War II has failed again and again at absorbing refugees itself.
The strategic considerations that led the Israeli government to sit on the fence in the fight between Russia and the Western countries can at least be placed, albeit with difficulty, in the category of “national security considerations.” But its shameful treatment of people fleeing for their lives and seeking shelter is completely unacceptable.
Instead of making their lives harder by imposing bureaucratic and financial conditions, the government must enable Ukrainian refugees to enter the country merely by signing a commitment to return home when the fighting ends. There’s no need to be either Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai; just be human beings.