Israel’s High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition to block the entry of thousands of Ethiopians, who are now expected to arrive in the coming days.
The government had decided in November to allow in about 9,000 Ethiopians with first-degree relatives in Israel. But the right-wing Israeli Immigration Policy Center filed the petition that asserted that the Ethiopians in question were not themselves Jewish or the direct descendants of Jews. The plan was put on hold until the Court could consider the matter.
Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata thanked the Court for its ruling, saying that the petition “cost human lives.”
“These immigrants waited for no reason and were left separated from their families, their parents, their siblings, their children and more. The war in Ethiopia and the coronavirus pandemic made their situation worse and the time has come to bring them home to Israel,” Tamano-Shata, an advocate for the Ethiopians, said in a statement. “Soon landing alongside the immigrants from Ukraine will be immigrants from Ethiopia.”
On Monday, Tamano-Shata was quoted in media reports accusing other ministers of racism for backing broad acceptance of Ukrainian refugees after the same ministers had prevented Ethiopians who were also fleeing a war situation from entering the country.
Meanwhile, on the Ukrainian refugee track, the Court on Monday agreed to hear a petition objecting to Israel’s policy of limited immigration, rejecting the state’s request to throw the case out.
On Sunday night, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that those fleeing the Russian invasion with relatives in Israel will be exempt from a 25,000-person entry cap that she placed on Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said that his country supported the petition, charging that it violated a visa-waiver agreement with Ukraine.
The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that officials in the Justice Ministry pointed to possible legal difficulties in maintaining the refugee quota for that reason
According to statistics published by the Population and Border Authority on Sunday morning, 7,179 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and 221 were refused entry.
The statistics included those who are immigrating and who are eligible to do so under the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak cited the visa agreement in a demand to allow all Ukrainians seeking asylum in Israel to be allowed in.
“The recent decisions of the Israeli leadership aimed at restricting the admission of Ukrainians, to put it mildly, are surprising,” Yermak wrote online. “We consider the suspension of visa-free travel and the introduction of the system of electronic permits of the [Interior Ministry] to enter Israel to be an unfriendly step for the citizens of Ukraine, which needs to be corrected immediately.”
While Yermak thanked Israel for its efforts to mediate between Ukraine and Russia, he warned that Kyiv “will react harshly and promptly to any steps that harm the interests of Ukraine and Ukrainians.”
“I will remind all our partners: your peoples have long and clearly shown and said what you need to do. See and hear your constituents. They made their choice. They support Ukraine. They are with us. And you?”