Bennett, Lapid to Jews in Ukraine: Get out now

Israeli government preparing for repatriation of citizens, influx of Jewish Ukrainians looking to settle in Israel.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears imminent, with President Joe Biden indicating that such an incursion could happen as early as Tuesday this week, Israeli government officials are preparing for mass evacuations of both Ukrainian nationals with Jewish heritage who qualify for Israeli citizenship and the repatriation of Israeli citizens currently in the eastern European country.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry estimates that there are up to 15,000 Israeli citizens currently in Ukraine, and there are some 150,000 – 200,000 Ukrainian Jews who could be granted Israeli citizenship.

According to a statement from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, the premier had an emergency meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Saturday to discuss strategy and “expedite preparations to evacuate Israelis from the country.”

Bennett, a religiously observant Jew, works on the Jewish day of rest only when it concerns pikuach nefesh (life or death) matters, so the meeting’s timing underscores the seriousness of the situation.

At the conclusion of the meeting, “it was agreed to raise the travel warning for the area, along with calling on Israeli citizens to immediately leave,” the statement added.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai told Hebrew-language media that Israel was gearing up for the potential “emergency immigration” of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews who would choose to settle in Israel, should Russia invade.

“Israel is the national home of the Jewish people,” Shai said. “If the Jewish community in Ukraine gets into trouble as a result of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we must offer them an immediate solution of an emergency immigration to Israel, now.”

Deputy Ambassador to Ukraine Yoav Bistretzky told Walla News that while the embassy was working in an emergency capacity to facilitate evacuation flights, Israel has already sent home the majority of its diplomats and embassy workers.

“This morning there are more Israeli and Ukrainian commercial companies flying to Tel Aviv, and Israeli citizens are asked to leave the country as soon as possible,” he said.

Chief Rabbi of Kiev Yonatan Binyamin Markovich, himself an Israeli citizen, said the Jewish community was essentially preparing for a siege.

His synagogue, he told Walla, has been turned into a makeshift shelter with mattresses, food and water.

“We have already prepared places for Jews and Israelis who want to… be together,” he said, adding that by having everyone gathered in one place, “if they want to evacuate and there are rescue flights, it will be easier to organize it.”