05/10/2023, 10.29
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75,000 in one year flock to Israel from ex-Soviet area under 'law of return'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Jewish immigrant boom from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus as a consequence of the war. Israeli government adopted procedures to speed up procedures. But ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists now press for a clampdown to close the doors to those who do not really profess Judaism.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - According to official government figures, the "repatriation" to Israel of people of Jewish roots from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus came to around 75,000 in 2022, with numbers varying depending on the agencies dealing with the issue.

This was possible thanks to the 'emergency repatriation' programme, introduced immediately after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which simplified the procedures of the 'law of return' by allowing people to arrive in the country by tourist entry, without the usual official request from the consulates of the place of departure.

In this way, it was possible to obtain Israeli citizenship within three days, but the huge flow of arrivals still slowed down the paperwork, and by autumn the wait for a passport was already taking several weeks.

Since 15 April this year, the programme has been closed to citizens from Russia and Belarus, but continues to be active for Ukrainians; Russians and Belarusians who arrived before that date must manage to obtain their documents by 15 June. The others will have to follow the normal procedure, which still dates back to 1950.

The law on repatriation was supplemented in 1970, with lists of categories of foreigners entitled to be received in Israel because of their links with the Jewish diaspora around the world, to whom "repatriation" is attributed, and not the mere naturalisation of a foreign immigrant.

Repatriates are not required to live in the country for a few years like other immigrants, but can go wherever they want, once they obtain a passport. In the 1970s, this had allowed a large exodus of people more or less attributable to the Jewish diaspora from the Soviet Union, also because atheism was not an objection to repatriation, unlike the assumption of a different religion, especially Christianity and Islam.

Assistance, including economic assistance for repatriation to former Soviet countries, is traditionally entrusted to the 'Jewish Agency for Israel', otherwise known as Sokhnut. In 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice had demanded the closure of the Sokhnut in Russia, which was under heavy pressure and constant scrutiny, and the work was transferred to another agency, Marom, which is closely linked to the Sokhnut.

The alternative was a tourist trip to be turned into repatriation, considering that Russians and Belarusians have the right to stay in Israel for three months without a visa, and then submit a request to be resolved within six months.

These changes of procedure in the year of the war were also intertwined with changes related to the early elections in Israel, which returned Benjamin Netanyahu to the leadership of the country, in a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists, who won more votes than in any previous consultation.

This has also affected the issue of repatriation, where the most radical groups complain that the openings "have led to a flood of goyim [infidels] in Israel", as one of their leaders, Avi Maoz, head of the Noam party, put it.

Orthodox Jews demand that citizenship be granted only to descendants of Jewish mothers, who openly profess the Jewish religion. Added to this is the 'ban on grandchildren', avoiding mixed and not strictly Jewish descendants.

Hence the ban on Russians and Belarusians, while maintaining the window for Ukrainians, thus agreeing with Western positions on the war, about which there are also various ambiguities in Israel.

A point of particular discussion is what in Hebrew/Russian is called the Darkonnaja Alija, the 'repatriation for passport', when the recipient uses the document only to go elsewhere, especially to Europe, where one can travel with it without a visa.

This practice is not at all appreciated by citizens living in Israel, as these people also enjoy the public money offered by the 'Repatriation Fund', which is supposed to help them adapt to life in the country, where they do not actually intend to stay.

The wave of repatriation caused by the Ukrainian war does not seem to bring any benefit to Israel, and is set to end within this year.

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