Israel Prepares for Influx of Russian Jews as Putin Sends Reservists to Ukraine
Moscow’s plan to reinforce its battlefront troops with 300,000 reserve soldiers has sparked protests across the country and a dash for the airports; but while Jerusalem makes plans for new arrivals, not everyone is keen to uproot
Amid daily reports of Ukrainian gains against invading Russian troops, the response to the new announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin of the mobilization of 300,000 reserve troops has been swift and apparently largely negative, with hundreds of arrests during protests in dozens of cities, even with an ongoing crackdown on dissent.
Those who can have headed for the airports, where Russians of military age have been scrambling for routes to anywhere but the front, where so many of their comrades have died.
Even so, their options are limited. Many European airlines ceased flights to Russia as part of the raft of measures brought against it after its invasion of Ukraine in February. Those seeking to get out while they can have found that tickets from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai now reach astronomical prices – with reports of companies charging more than $9,000 for a one-way flight in economy class.
For Russian Jews wishing to avoid mobilization, the destination seems obvious.
After Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid convened an emergency government meeting to discuss the potential arrival of thousands more Jews from Russia, an Israeli TV news program on Thursday reported that there is a comprehensive plan now in place to relocate members of the Russian Jewish community wishing to leave.
According to the Channel 13 report, Israel is increasing the number of flights by flag carrier El Al between Tel Aviv and Moscow as well as between Tel Aviv and Russia’s neighboring countries and potentially also allowing flights to arrive at Ramon International Airport, some 20km from its southernmost city of Eilat. Israel is also making plans for the closure of the flight routes and is arranging land crossings from Russia via Lithuania, Finland, and Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, the report said, Israel is looking into ways of facilitating the removal of money from Russia, many of whose banks have been affected by international sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, an international nonprofit organization, told The Media Line that since the conflict began on February 24, Israel has already welcomed 23,000 new immigrants from Russia and 13,000 from Ukraine.
But despite the Israeli preparations for an influx of Russian Jews, Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, was adamant that he was staying in Moscow.
“With my position in the community, I cannot leave. If I leave the community, who will be in the synagogue, who will give the people support?” he told The Media Line. “Rabbis should be the last, not the first [to leave].”
The rabbi confirmed that there were Russian Jews who were planning to leave but insisted that some had chosen to remain in the country.
“You can’t say that everyone has decided to flee,” he said, adding that it was not his job to assist those who wished to leave the country for Israel, but rather that of the Israeli Embassy.
“We offer spiritual support and humanitarian support. Everything connected to immigration to Israel is not through the Jewish community but through a special organization,” he said.
“Many Jews in Russia immigrated to Israel and got [Israeli] passports. And many of them returned to Russia because their whole lives were here. Everyone must decide for themselves whether to stay [in Russia] because their whole lives, their families are in Russia and it is very hard for them in Israel,” he told The Media Line.
“You cannot say that there is a crisis here,” he said. “It’s not quite like that.”
The rabbi also said it was hard to discern exactly what the situation was with the mobilization of reserve troops because the announcement was still new.
“It is not clear who is affected and who is not affected,” he said. “People are scared, no doubt, but the number of people who will be recruited is for now limited.”
But Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, an unapologetic critic of the invasion of Ukraine who left Russia for Israel in March, views the situation differently and has called for all Jews to leave Russia.
“We are in touch with the Israeli authorities as well as with the different national institutions dealing with Aliyah [immigration to Israel] and we are consulting with them and they are consulting with us,” Goldschmidt told The Media Line regarding the plans now in place.
He confirmed that he is in touch with members of the Jewish community in Russia but declined to elaborate on how that contact was conducted.
“We have our ways of being connected,” he said.
The rabbi cautiously agreed with Boroda’s statement that not every member of the Russian Jewish community is keen to leave, but was skeptical of his alliances and motives.
“Obviously not everyone wants to leave, not everyone can leave,” Rabbi Goldschmidt told The Media Line. “However, Rabbi Boroda has been supporting the war from day one.
“The Jewish communal structures have to remain for as long as there are Jews in Russia, there is no question about it. And as life is getting more difficult in Russia, the Jewish community outside of Russia should be of help to the Russian Jewish community.”
Tickets for indirect flights from Moscow to Tel Aviv via Dubai in the coming days now cost more than $6,700 as demand soars, while flights that include two stops – Antalya and Istanbul – for next week have already reached $4,000. For many in Russia, where the average monthly salary is a little over $1,000, that price is out of reach.
Israel is not the sole Mideast destination to see a mass influx of Russians since the invasion of Ukraine. Wealthy Russians headed to the Gulf in “unprecedented numbers” following the start of the war, the BBC reported. It also quoted a Dubai-based real estate agency as saying that property purchases by Russians grew by as much as 66% in the first quarter of the year.