Mar 10, 2022 • 26M

Israel's Ukrainian Refugee Policy—Smart Strategy or Moral Failure?

A conversation with Dr. Ayelet Oz of the Israeli organization, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

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Since the beginning of the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Ukraine more than two weeks ago, much attention has been focused on Israel, both from within and from without. There has been discussion of Israel’s careful dance expressing support for Ukraine without enraging Putin, Naftali Bennett’s risky decision to play some sort of mediating role, Israel’s rebuffing Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to address the Knesset (yesterday), what Russia’s astonishingly underperforming air force might mean for Israel on its northern border and much more.

Key among the issues, however, has been Israel’s still changing policy on the admission of Ukrainian refugees.

Ukrainian Jews can enter Israel and are automatically eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. But what should Israel’s policy be towards those who are not eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return but have some connection to Israel? What about those who have no connection to Israel at all, but are seeking a safe haven?

How should Israel balance its need to maintain the Jewish character of the state (for which it needs an overwhelmingly Jewish demographic majority) and its knowledge that we, too, are a nation of refugees who gathered here largely when no one else in the world would take us in? How should our own history color our policy towards the victims of the newest unfolding humanitarian disaster?

For a glimpse of what’s happening at Ben-Gurion airport, see this video of Ukraine refugees caught sleeping on floors at TLV.

Israel’s political leadership is deeply divided. Yesterday, I reached out to Dr. Ayelet Oz, CEO of the Israeli organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and asked her to have a conversation in which she would summarize Israel’s current policies, and then explain her view of what Israel’s policy should be. Even in the midst of an insanely busy and complicated week, she graciously agreed.

Dr. Ayelet Oz is the Executive Director of The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants Israel. She previously served as the Director of the Administrative Law division at the Public Defender's office in the Ministry of Justice and clerked for the Israeli Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut. Dr. Oz holds an SJD from Harvard University and a LLB and BA from Tel Aviv University.

The recipient of the Michel Halperin prize for best essay on human rights practice for the year 2018, she was also listed as a member of The Marker’s “40 under 40” list for 2017.

Unlike our regular Thursday podcasts, which are sent to paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside, we are posting this conversation outside our regular schedule and are making it available to everyone, given how critical this moral issue is.

If you would like to support the work of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants in Israel, please visit the DONATE page on their website. They urgently need support.

There are many different views on this issue in Israel, and as part of our ongoing effort to reflect the mosaic of Israeli opinions on many issues, we hope to soon post other conversations with people who see matters differently.

With hopes and prayers for peace.

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Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:

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