Israel Might Absorb 500,000 Ukrainian Refugees By The End of The Year But Does The Public Like It?
06:14 GMT 08.03.2022 (Updated: 17:25 GMT 15.01.2023)
© AP Photo / Oded BaliltyPeople play footvolley at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 5, 2020
© AP Photo / Oded Balilty
So far, the Jewish state has received more than 2,000 Ukrainians, most of them non-Jewish. Authorities have already said that if the conflict in the Ukraine continues, the country will be taking in some 15,000 refugees by the end of March.
Since 24 February, when Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine, more than 1.7 million civilians have fled that territory, according to the United Nations.
So far, Poland has taken in more than a million refugees. Other East European states, including Russia, have absorbed tens of thousands of others. Few have been seeking refuge overseas.
Israel As a Refuge
Israel has become one such destination. Since the beginning of the hostilities more than 2,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the Jewish state, and authorities are now saying they plan on embracing far more.
According to estimates, in March Israel is set to get 15,000 Ukrainians. By the end of the year, their numbers could potentially reach half a million people.
In the past, Israel has rarely taken in any refugees. Since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, it has only opened its doors to Jewish people, those who got married to Jews, or those who could prove their Jewish roots. One exception was made in 1999, during the Yugoslavia war. At the time, Israel absorbed more than a hundred refugees from Kosovo.
Now, it seems, Israel is making another exception. 90 percent of those, who have arrived in the country from the Ukraine so far are not Jewish, and the state is mulling over legislation that would enable it to absorb more newcomers.
Tzvi Hauser, one of Israel's lawmakers, has already proposed a bill that would determine who could potentially be integrated.
One category of Ukrainians, who could be eligible for residence in Israel, is professionals in the sphere of high-tech, technicians, welders, construction workers and caregivers.
Another one is Ukrainian employees of Israeli companies, who can find jobs in Israel, and a third one is orphans, sick people or those who have lost their relatives amid the hostilities.
Refugees Not Welcomed
Hauser's proposal has already triggered a lively discourse among various political groups on Telegram. Some have welcomed the "humanitarian" move and reiterated it was "beneficial" for Israel's economy. But a vast majority has condemned it.
"This is a craze. They can be absorbed in Europe. Why do they need to arrive here? This is beyond me," wrote one participant of the discussion.
Others chimed in:
"Why does the State of Israel that is battling over preserving its Jewish majority need to absorb refugees, who are not Jewish, and who can be taken by European states?"
"So is this the end of it? No more a Jewish state..."
According to official statistics, some 20 percent of Israel's 9 million population is non Jewish, and the country's conservative circles have long battled to preserve the Jewishness of the state by encouraging the immigration of Jews from around the world.
The absorption of 500,000 Ukrainians has never been part of their plan. This is why many are lashing out at the government and its policies, which can jeopardise the Jewish state.
"This is a government that doesn't have the mandate of the people," wrote one commentator, referring to the coalition that was inaugurated last June that's comprised of eight parties with opposing ideologies.
"Every step they make is illegitimate. And the move they take right now is not only endangering our country, but it also negates the basic law of Israel. And I don't really understand how they can just easily scrap it."
Another participant responded. "Are you wondering why our politicians distort the core principles of our Jewish state? Well, this is because they are tired of convincing the country's Jews to vote for them. So they are importing gentiles, who will stay here through the order of the High Court, and they will tilt the cup in the favour of the anti-Zionist bloc. And this will eventually lead to the sinking of the Jewish state."
The current coalition, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, has been slammed by the conservative circles of Israel from the very beginning of its creation.
Bennett has been criticised for betraying his right-wing voters and establishing a coalition with liberals. He has been rebuked for the way he has handled the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it unkeyed. And now he is also blamed for the mismanagement of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
A recent poll, conducted by Israel's channel 13, revealed that only 23 percent of Israelis thought that Bennett was able to navigate through the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The alternate prime minister Yair Lapid has scored an even lower grade, 13 percent, whereas the country's former premier Benjamin Netanyahu has been leading in that survey, receiving 49 percent of all votes.