‘Escape route’: Russian Jews flee to Israel

'Escape route': Russian Jews flee to Israel

For Russians of Jewish origin, Israel could be a way out. Under 1950 Israeli law, anyone with at least one Jewish grandfather can become a citizen of Israel. It is estimated that more than half a million Russians are eligible for an Israeli passport.

“It’s an escape route for me,” says Natalia Lilica. “My mother was Jewish, so I can get Israeli citizenship. Many Russians envy me because in this way I can move to Israel. Many people would love to have this opportunity.”

In recent years, Russia has been the main country of origin for immigrants in Israel. Last year, 7,700 Russians arrived in Israel, more than a quarter of the total number of new arrivals. This year the numbers are much higher. Interior Minister Shaked said last week that he expected “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of immigrants” from Russia and Ukraine.

The fact that Israel opens the door to Russian Jews also creates complications. A sensitive group is the Jewish oligarch from Russia, such as Roman Abramovich, who was granted Israeli citizenship in 2018. Israel is under pressure from the United States to prevent these businessmen in Israel from evading economic sanctions imposed on them.

Temporary housing in the occupied territories

But most of the refugees at the moment are not from Russia, but from Ukraine. More than 7,000 Ukrainian refugees have already arrived in Israel in recent weeks. An estimated 200,000 people live in Ukraine and are allowed to settle in Israel because of their Jewish origins.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he wanted to receive them “with an open door and an open heart.” The World Zionist Organization has already announced that at least 1,000 temporary homes will be built for the group, some of which will be in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Critics point out that non-Jewish refugees are hardly welcome in Israel. Also, some Ukrainian travelers at the airport had to pay a deposit of thousands of euros before they were allowed to enter Israel. In response to the criticism, Israel said it would relax the standards. The Minister of the Interior said last night that all Ukrainian refugees with families in Israel are welcome.

In the meantime, Natalia is counting on the fact that at the moment she will never see her homeland again. “I will miss a lot of things, our summer cottage on the Volga for example,” she says. “I hope to be able to return to Russia one day, even if it is on vacation. But as long as Putin remains in power, Russia has no future. And even if he disappears from the scene, it will be a long time before all else. Return to what it was before .”

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