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It’s not just about aliyah

Israel should be wary of feeding the “dual loyalty” narrative by focusing exclusively on the plight of Jewish refugees from Ukraine.

Demonstrators carry signs and flags during a protest in Tel Aviv against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Demonstrators carry signs and flags during a protest in Tel Aviv against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Raheli Baratz-Rix. Credit: Courtesy.
Raheli Baratz-Rix

Following a several-day journey, a 59-year old Jewish Ukrainian man reached the Ukrainian-Hungarian border last week. He was carrying a Ukrainian passport—a document that attested to the fact that he had been discharged from the military five years ago, and a provisional Israeli passport he had received just a few hours earlier. The man was supposed to make aliyah to Israel, as part of a process that began several months prior, unrelated to the war that has erupted in Ukraine.

But officers at the border prevented him from crossing because of a new law in Ukraine that prevents able-bodied men from leaving. In addition, he was thrown insults for being a Jew and threatened he would be conscripted and have his vehicle stolen. In the end, the man was let go, only to return to Ukraine.

This is one of many true stories that depict, unfortunately, what many of us feared: a wave of anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Ukraine. In the weeks leading up to the Russian incursion, Israel called on all its citizens staying in Ukraine to return, but an estimated 6,000 Israelis are still thought to be in the besieged country, alongside hundreds of thousands of Jews. While initially, it made sense to encourage everyone to return, or make aliyah, as soon as the fighting began we should have stopped urging immigration to Israel, at least openly, for the immediate result of aliyah encouragement is a rise in anti-Semitism.

According to the World Zionist Organization, no significant increase in physical anti-Semitic incidents has yet been reported in Ukraine and neighboring countries (such as vandalism of Jewish symbols and attacks on Jews). However, on social media, one can detect an alarming trend on both sides of the border. On VK, a social network popular among Russian speakers, users blamed the war on the Jews and Israel. The fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish only fuels the spread of such conspiracies.

In addition, the classic anti-Semitic rhetoric of Jews controlling the global economy has also begun circulating online.

Usually, a wave of anti-Semitism is followed by a wave of aliyah. We saw this in 2019 when many Jews from France immigrated to Israel after experiencing a year of Jew-hatred in 2018. This time, things are different. We must understand that from Ukraine’s perspective, anyone leaving the country will be viewed as having dual loyalties, which will increase Jew-hatred.

Israel’s declared support only for Ukraine’s Jews will emphasize their supposed lack of loyalty to Ukraine during wartime, especially when it comes to young men applying for aliyah, a matter that can be perceived as a desire to avoid fighting alongside Ukraine’s soldiers.

True, our goal is to help each and every Jew, but if we distinguish between one kind of blood and another now, it might lead to the shedding of Jewish blood in the future. The Israeli government is right to send humanitarian aid to all those in refugee camps and deal with requests without discrimination.

Israel must minimize encouraging aliyah without giving it up and continue work on two fronts—helping every Israeli and Jew that reaches out, and offering humanitarian aid to all those who flee the war zone. To proudly present Israel as helping all those left without a roof over their heads, and emphasize this approach in the media.

Raheli Baratz-Rix is head of the Department for Combating Antisemitism and Enhancing Resilience at the World Zionist Organization.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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