The Russian invasion of Ukraine has flooded the world with a wave of refugees fleeing for their lives. As in previous refugee crises, this time, too, many countries have opened their doors, in line with the UN Convention on Refugees. Israel is also a signatory to this convention, thus obligating it to take part in the global effort to take in the refugees.
But on the pretext that the refugees from Ukraine have passed through a safe country before arriving in Israel, and not directly from their country, the government is trying to evade Israel’s responsibility to view them as refugees.
Instead, Israel prefers to focus on what it defines as an “opportunity” to encourage a wave of Jewish immigration to Israel. The government and Jewish Agency have initiated a special program dubbed “Aliyah Express,” which is intended to expedite the arrival of Jews from Ukraine without the need for them to wait months for their documents to be approved.
And there is another group of Jewish refugees from Ukraine – numbering a few dozen – who are not entitled to come to Israel under the new program because they are converts to Judaism. Jews who belong to this group must wait a few months until their documents are finally approved. Meanwhile, they are in Israel on tourist visas, and they cannot work, register their children for school or receive the economic benefits given to Jewish refugees, such as hotel rooms and subsidized rent (Judy Maltz, Haaretz, April 11).
Finally, there is a third group of Ukrainian refugees – non-Jews. They are treated entirely differently from the Jewish refugees. The state considers them tourists, too. They are not allowed to work, and the health insurance the government has promised them is stuck in the bureaucratic maze of government purchasing. They did not come to Israel, one of the most expensive countries in the world, because they want to upgrade their lives in Tel Aviv. They came because they have a psychological support system here – family or friends who can help them flee the nightmare in which they have found themselves – and they won’t stay here forever.
Israel must see to it that all the Ukrainians who seek refuge in Israel receive health insurance and work permits. At this point there is no moral justification for differentiating between Jewish and non-Jewish Ukrainians.
Israel’s immigration policy – in which decisive weight is given to a person’s Jewish status – bears no connection to Israel’s refugee policy. A refugee’s Jewish or non-Jewish status should not be brought into consideration. In the end, Israel can decide not to grant citizenship to people who are not Jewish, but as long as the war goes on – even if it lasts for another three years – the state must immediately make sure that all asylum seekers are granted the conditions people need to live decent lives.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.