The Ukrainian president praised Israel’s High Court of Justice on Sunday for overturning a 5,000-person refugee quota instituted on March 10 amid the Russian onslaught on Ukraine.
The quota, a policy of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, applied to Ukrainians who did not qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which requires the applicant to have a Jewish parent or grandparent in order to be eligible.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the 5,000- person quota was in addition to some 20,000 Ukrainians already in Israel on tourist visas or possibly illegally.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy turned to social media to praise the court’s decision.
“I commend the decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Israel, which obliges the government of Israel to abolish any additional restrictions on the entry of citizens of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “The rule of law and respect for human rights is exactly what distinguishes a true, developed democracy!”
Tomer Warsha Law Firm, specializing in immigration law, has reportedly been helping Ukrainians enter the country and filed the petition to overturn the policy.
“We are thrilled that Ukrainian citizens – who still have to endure the war – will be able to find comfort in the State of Israel beside their relatives and friends, and happy that we could do our part to assist refugees of war,” said the firm in a statement on social media. “We are deeply satisfied that the Supreme Court accepted all of our claims and ruled that the minister of interior has acted contrary to provisions of the law.”
Shaked wanted to reduce immigration to Israel for non-Jewish asylum-seekers, which she has said is necessary to maintain the Jewish character of the state.
Nevertheless, the High Court judges observed that the 4,409 Ukrainian asylum seekers who arrived in Israel since the start of the war had already left. In addition, according to a bilateral open visitation agreement, Ukrainians do not need a visa if they want to visit Israel for up to three months.
On Sunday, the High Court of Justice underscored this bilateral deal between Jerusalem and Kyiv and ruled that there should be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can enter Israel without a visa.
Shaked criticized the ruling, saying that her policy had “proven to be a success,” enabling relatives of Israelis to arrive and work, while “preventing an unprecedented flood [of refugees].”
“In recent weeks, thanks to this system, more Ukrainians are leaving the country than arriving,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the High Court has ruled, practicing extraordinary judicial activism, that this system will be halted if it isn’t discussed in the Knesset.”
Shaked called on the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee to review the issue further, referring to the ruling and its implications as it contradicts the bilateral visitation deal.
“It is clear that we can’t allow the unlimited entry of foreign citizens, while we don’t know whether and when they are going to exit,” Shaked said.
Tomer Warsha emphasized that the status quo had returned for Ukrainians traveling to Israel.
“Ukrainian citizens will receive the same treatment as before – and will be able to enter Israel without a visa, the same as citizens of any country that is exempt from the visa requirement,” the firm stated.
Not all members of the Israel government shared Shaked’s outrage over the ruling. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said opening the door to the refugees “embodies our moral duty as a Jewish nation and state.”
“From the very beginning, I have fought to allow the entry of Ukrainian refugees without the strains of bureaucratic barriers,” Shai stated. “I welcome this decision made in favor of humanity and in line with our ethos as a people.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.