Israeli officials scramble to deal with the influx of Russian Jews as they flee the fallout of crippling economic sanctions.
After Russian troops crossed over into Ukraine in February, Israeli officials geared up to deal with a wave of Ukrainian Jews, starting preparations to accommodate the refugees.
Instead, more Jews have arrived in Israel from Russia than from Ukraine, according to official figures obtained by the Haaretz.
Around 200,000 Ukrainians and 600,000 Russians qualify for immigration to Israel under Israel’s Law of Return, according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
Any person in the world with one Jewish grandparent or a Jewish partner is eligible for Israeli citizenship.
But the verification process, known locally as “Aliyah,” can take weeks as Israeli authorities run background ancestry checks and require verification documents.
However, Israeli authorities have relaxed the process for Ukrainian refugees in consideration of the urgency and impact of the conflict.
According to Israel’s National Security Council (NSC) figures, a total of 8,371 Ukrainian Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel between February 24 and April 8.
On the other hand, 12,593 Russians have come as immigrants in the same period — a major increase from the 7,700 Russians who landed in Israel in the whole of 2021.
Among the Ukrainian refugees, 4,750 people were given special permission to fly to Israel before they had even completed the paperwork, a process that can take weeks.
Russian Jews have not been offered the same concessions. Yet, they have found a way to jump the barrier by flying to Israel on tourist visas and starting the citizenship application process once they are in the country. Most Russians have arrived in Israel on a tourist visa like this since the conflict started on February 24.
A Russian flight
Since the beginning of Moscow’s operation in Ukraine, a record number of Russians have fled the country — the largest Russian exodus in modern history.
While Ukrainians are escaping the destruction caused by bombings and shellings, Russians are fleeing for other reasons. Some of them say they reject the Russian military action against Ukraine, while others complain that crippling economic sanctions imposed by the US, European Union and other countries have affected their livelihood, as international firms have halted their operations in Russia.
Some reports suggest that around a million Russians have fled to countries that don’t require a visa for Russians, like Georgia and Armenia.
Some of the other popular immigration destinations include Turkic states such as Türkiye and Azerbaijan. Dubai, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and even Latin America have also received a significant number of Russian immigrants.
Amid the high demand for Aliyah, the Interior Ministry is unable to offer appointments for months.
Ukrainian exodus slows down
Meanwhile, the number of Ukrainian Jews flying to Israel has dropped in recent weeks as evident from the drop in the number of people staying at shelters in Ukraine, Poland and other neighbouring countries that are run by the Jewish Agency, an Israeli government body that assists with immigration efforts.
Israel’s interior ministry announced in early March that only “halachic” Jewish Ukrainians — those who were born to Jewish mothers — would be accepted into the country.
Under Israeli law, Jews who want to immigrate to Israel are asked to bring their families along if they also want to benefit from citizenship rights. If they stay behind, they’re not allowed to apply separately, later.
This policy would effectively mean the separation of families, as Ukraine has prohibited men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country and sent them to the frontline.