Israel has struggled to remain neutral, maintaining relations with Ukraine and Russia, a position that has allowed the Israeli Prime Minister to act as a mediator. But the Aliyah Law of Return establishing Israel as the homeland and refuge of the Jewish people while carrying out the prophesied ingathering of the exiles has proved problematic, garnering criticism from the US.
Right of return
The prophecy of Jews returning to their homeland was prophesied by both Isaiah and Jeremiah and is a right granted by the State of Israel to Jews worldwide.
And there is hope for your future —declares Hashem: Your children shall return to their country. (Jeremiah 31:16)
On Sunday, The Population, Immigration, and Border Authority said Sunday that 7,179 people have arrived from Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24, of whom 221 were refused entry. Approximately 5,000 of the Ukrainian refugees do not have Jewish ancestry and don’t have the right to immigrate under the Aliyah Law of Return.
Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said that Israel would allow approximately 20,000 Ukrainians who were on tourist visas or in the country illegally before the Russian invasion to remain in the country. She added that Israel would also grant visas to a further 5,000 non-Jewish refugees seeking to escape the war, meaning that this limit has already been met.
These visas would allow the refugees to remain in the country without fear of deportation but would not allow them to work legally, send their children to school, or get access to Israel’s health care.
A report in Times of Israel claimed that many of the non-Jewish refugees have family members who are Israeli citizens or otherwise are in the country but nonetheless do not qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return. Many of the refugees are staying with friends or family in Israel. Two hotels in Tel Aviv are also being used to house refugees.
Approximately 2,000 Ukrainians with Jewish ancestry or Jewish spouses arrived and are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.
But among the new olim are several dozen non-refugee Russian oligarchs who received Israeli citizenship over the past several years under the Law of Return. A recent story in the Washington Post claimed like most uber-wealthy, these oligarchs necessarily have warm relations with the Russian government and even the president, Vladimir Putin. The list includes Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and Viktor Vekselberg, all of whom have been targeted by international sanctions against Russia. Israel has pointedly not joined in these sanctions. Israel is also a haven for Russian Jewish magnates like Leonid Nevzlin seeking refuge from Putin’s ire. Israeli media have reported private jets belonging to oligarchs coming in and out of the country in recent days. Channel 12 reported Friday that in the last 10 days, 14 private jets that took off from St. Petersburg landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport
Biden administration objects
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 TV station over the weekend, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, called on Israel to join the group of countries that have sanctioned Russia.
“What we are asking among other things is for every democracy around the world to join us in the financial and export control sanctions that we have put on Putin,” she said. “You don’t want to become the last haven for dirty money that’s fueling Putin’s wars.”
מיוחד: תת שר החוץ של ארצות הברית ויקטוריה נולנד אומרת לנו שארה״ב מצפה מישראל להצטרף לסנקציות נגד רוסיה:⁰״אתם לא רוצים להפוך למקלט האחרון לכסף מלוכלך שמתדלק את המלחמה של פוטין״⁰הראיון המלא, גם על מאמצי התיווך הישראלים ואיראן מיד באולפן שישי @N12News pic.twitter.com/aS1mlt04D0
— יונה לייבזון yuna leibzon (@YunaLeibzon) March 11, 2022
Toughest battering of Israeli policy
WAPO quoted Aaron David Miller, a now-retired veteran U.S. diplomat, who said on Twitter that Nuland’s comments were the “toughest battering of Israeli policy since the crisis began or of any policy in a very long while.”
It is interesting to note that Nuland’s father was born to Eastern European Jewish immigrants, making her eligible for Israeli citizenship should she request it.
This special class of new immigrants puts Israel in a difficult position.
“A worried Israeli government has formed a high-level committee to see how the country can maintain its status as a haven for any Jew without running afoul of the biting sanctions targeting Putin’s inner circle,” WAPO wrote.
A special inter-ministerial committee
Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the government has formed a special inter-ministerial committee to study the sanctions issue with special emphasis being placed on the issue of the oligarchs.
Last week, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, said it was suspending a reported donation of $10m from Abramovich “in light of recent developments”.
The oligarchs’ citizenship is not the result of preferential treatment. It should be remembered that Israel has taken in an estimated one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union since its dissolution in 1991.
“Endangering the public?”
Those who advocate revoking the Russian oligarchs’ citizenship cite a clause in the law of return cite an amendment to the Law of Return made in 1954 that included a section allowing the Minister to refuse Israeli citizenship to a Jew “with a criminal record who may endanger the public peace.” Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that for the purpose of proving a criminal record there’s no need for a court conviction or confession of the applicant – but rather administrative evidence suffices. Considering the dire political ramifications and the power of the involved parties, it seems likely that any decisions concerning the citizenship of the Russian Jewish oligarchs would require judicial intervention.
Rabbi Chaim Amsalem has vast experience in dealing with these complicated issues. As a rabbi, he is a recognized expert in issues pertaining to Jewish identity. He also served as a Member of the Knesset, representing the Shas party. His understanding of the issue was simple and spoke directly to the heart of the matter.
The Jewish nation
“We are the Jewish nation,” Rabbi Amsalem told Israel365 News. “That must always be our primary concern. We are carrying out the prophetic mandate to return the exiles to the Promised Land,: the rabbi added, referring to a verse in Deuteronomy:
then Hashem your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where Hashem your God has scattered you. Deuteronomy 30:3
“We are the only refuge for Jews, whether they are rich or poor,” Rabbi Amsalem said. “We are not the UN and do not answer to any external political agenda.”