03/09/2022, 12.49
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Israel, Ukrainian refugees and the 'Jewish identity' of the State

The Ministry for the Interior says it is ready to welcome 5,000 people fleeing the war and another 20,000 already "illegally" in the country, in addition to Ukrainian Jews who are entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return. Temporary permits and the possibility of seeking work. The mayor of Nof Hagalil, a former immigrant now in the front line in welcoming "olim" Ukrainians. 



Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - From a car park below his office in Nof Hagalil, a municipality in northern Israel, mayor Ronen Plot receives phone calls and coordinates the storage of materials, while volunteers are busy unloading blankets and clothes donated for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.

The 67-year-old mayor, interviewed by Afp, recalls that the municipality "was founded on immigration" and that he himself arrived here about 50 years ago from Moldova. Today history is repeating itself with the tens of thousands of people fleeing the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. "We will absorb as many people as possible,' he assures. However, there is one basic question: should the reception apply only to "olim" Ukrainians, i.e. immigrants of Jewish origin who can benefit from the so-called "Law of Return", or to all Ukrainian refugees?

Yesterday, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked spoke on the issue, stressing that Israel is ready to accept up to another 5,000 refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. In addition, the 20,000 immigrants of Ukrainian origin, including extended family groups and workers with expired visas who were already in the country "illegally" before the start of the fighting, will be offered the opportunity to "benefit from a temporary visa". In the event that the war does not end "in a reasonable amount of time", the latter will be granted "permission to work in Israel".

The country, she warned, could already be facing the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, whose Jewish origins allow them to enter the country and gain automatic citizenship according to current regulations. In the meantime, the other 5,000 admitted refugees would be granted a three-month entry visa, on the basis of which they would be able to look for work and meet their daily needs. Hence the government's further mediation efforts in the direction of peace, or at least a truce, with a new telephone call yesterday between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Returning to the Ukrainian refugees, the emergency once again raises the question of the State's "Jewish" identity, which under the Law of Return allows the right of entry and citizenship to those who can prove they have a relative up to the second degree (grandparents) who are Jewish. However, the law - or its application - leaves unresolved the issue of mixed couples who, in theory, would have every right to return, so much so that among Jews and Russians who immigrated in the 1990s, there are in fact many Christians who are "more or less hidden". 

Shaked herself, of the religious party Yamina, had recently issued a warning, stressing that over 90% of Ukrainians who have so far reached Israel's borders are not Jews and the flow of refugees "cannot continue like this". Less than 10% of the 2034 Ukrainian refugees who have entered the country as of 6 March can benefit from the Law of Return, he warned, emphasising the danger of further arrivals of "non-Jews". Hence the request to "plan" new entries and the same policy of welcoming those fleeing the war zone. 

According to the Israeli authorities, up to 100,000 "olim" and their families could arrive from Russia and Ukraine, in a mass exodus reminiscent of the flight after the collapse of the then Soviet Union. By the end of March, arrivals could reach 15,000, with 90% of these qualifying under the Law of Return, but the numbers would end up being unsustainable in a nation of 9.4 million people. The 2020 data on European Jewry indicate that in Ukraine there are 43,000 people who declare (or identify themselves) as Jews and about 200,000 who can emigrate to Israel on the basis of the "Law of Return", confirming a huge discrepancy between the beneficiaries of the rule allowing immigration and Jews tout-court. 

The issue is already the subject of controversy in Israel, with the Orthodox Jewish movement Yad L'Achim accusing the American missionaries of Chosen People Ministries of wanting to celebrate "mass baptisms" in the Jordan River of Ukrainian Jews who have immigrated to the country. Under the pretext of helping, the Orthodox radicals accuse the Christian movement of taking advantage of this to carry out mass conversions and spread its religious beliefs. However, the leaders of Yad L'Achim say they are ready to do anything to "foil" the threat and cancel the "missionary plot". 

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