Praising Israel as a historic example of ‘resilience,’ Ukrainian Jews express disappointment at Jerusalem’s ‘inhumane’ restrictions on refugees

Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Habimah Square to express their support for Ukraine as the country’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the Knesset. Photo: Reuters/Corinna Kern

Eight-five prominent Ukrainian Jews have signed a public appeal to Israeli authorities urging them to ease immigration restrictions on refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, local media reported Sunday.

Published by the RBC news agency, the statement hailed the Jewish state as an example for Ukraine in its demonstration of “resilience, heroism and the selfless struggle for freedom and independence”. Signatories express gratitude, as ‘Jews of Ukraine’, for Israel’s support for UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression, providing humanitarian aid to people displaced by bombing Russians and for the mediation effort led by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

However, the statement stresses that “today, when the whole of Ukraine has stood up in defense of its independence, many Ukrainian citizens look to us with embarrassment and despair regarding these decisions taken by the state. of Israel” regarding tougher immigration and entry rules.

Among the reported signatories of the declaration are the two chief rabbis of Ukraine, Moshe Azman and Yaakov Dov Bleich, Igor Surkis, president of the Dinamo Kyiv football club, Josef Zissels, president of the Ukrainian Jewish organization Va’ad, Boris Lozhkin , a businessman and president of the Jewish Council of Ukraine (JCU) and Faina Ioffe, director of the JCU.

In a speech Sunday in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, which criticized the Israeli response to the Russian invasion on several points, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the assembled lawmakers: “We ask for your help, even with visas basic.

In their statement, released hours before Zelensky’s speech, Ukrainian Jewish leaders said: “Israel repeatedly and with justified outrage pointed out that during World War II, many countries around the world closed their borders to refugees. jews. Therefore, the country’s current position regarding refugees from Ukraine – non-Jews – is nonsense to us.

He continues: “We are convinced that in times of war, closing the door to Ukrainians and introducing quotas and other restrictions is extremely inhumane. This situation considerably undermines the international authority of the State of Israel.

Under rules set by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on March 10, 20,000 Ukrainians who were in Israel, many illegally, were allowed to stay. Shaked also set an additional quota of 5,000 Ukrainians who would be accepted after the outbreak of hostilities. Another rule requires Ukrainian citizens traveling to Israel to submit an application to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a travel permit before boarding a plane.

On Sunday, Israel’s High Court questioned whether Shaked had the power to impose new rules in a hearing based on a complaint filed on behalf of the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel. Tomer Varsha, a lawyer representing Ukrainians, previously argued that Shaked overstepped his authority by allegedly canceling the visa-free travel regime agreed to by Israel and Ukraine in 2010. Shaked now has until March 28 to notify judges of the High Court of changes to the quota governing Ukrainian arrivals.

Separately, Shaked announced in a tweet that on Sunday more Ukrainians arrived in Israel claiming citizenship under the Law of Return than on tourist visas.

There were “438 people eligible for the law of return compared to 330 with a tourist visa” over the past day, Shaked said, going on to predict that “by the start of next week we will reach 10,000 immigrants”. Shaked also confirmed that there would be no limit on the number of Ukrainian refugees who have a relative in Israel, but who are not eligible for citizenship, and who are allowed to enter the country.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Zelensky’s Knesset speech continued on Monday, as the head of the Ukrainian parliament’s group for relations with Israel gave a ringing endorsement of his leader’s words.

Georgy Logvinsky told Ukrainian media that he had received several calls from Israeli lawmakers and journalists who shared Zelensky’s outrage, saying “it was an absolute shock to them that [Russian President] Putin, as the reincarnation of Hitler, even uses the same terminology as 80 years ago,” during the Nazi Holocaust.

In his speech, Zelensky accused Russia of plotting a “final solution” for Ukraine – an invocation of the Holocaust that many Israeli lawmakers had found objectionable. Nevertheless, Logvinsky insisted that Zelensky was right to draw the comparison with the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

“We are two nations that others sought to destroy, but we survived,” he said, in comments quoted by Ukrainian television channel TSN.

“Today, Jews in Ukraine are having a deja vu experience,” Logvinsky continued. “Eighty years ago they wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth because they are Jews; today it is because they are Ukrainians.

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