Ayelet Shaked
Ayelet Shakedצילום: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) is refusing to lift quotas on the number of Ukrainian refugees the country will accept, despite heavy pressure from within the Israeli government and from Ukraine, the minister said at a press conference Sunday night.

Last week, Shaked announced that Israel would temporarily host 25,000 Ukrainian citizens who are not eligible for Israel’s Law of Return.

"In total, Israel will temporarily host about 25,000 Ukrainian citizens until the crisis passes,” Shaked said in her announcement last week. “This is a very significant number in itself, on any scale. When you add to this the absorption of immigrants by virtue of the Law of Return, the magnitude of the challenge becomes clear. I have no doubt we will meet it successfully.

Now, with the 25,000-refugee quota nearly filled, Shaked is under pressure both from other Israeli leaders, as well as from Ukraine, to raise the quota, or to lift it entirely.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor) has called on Shaked to allow large numbers of Ukrainian refugees into Israel.

"Israel must stand on the right side of history, and give these refugees shelter. A people whose history has included many years of being refugees, it is not now permitted to shut its eyes in the face of this current refugee crisis."

Sources close to Shaked were cited in a Channel 12 report as saying that the Interior Minister is unwilling to raise the quota.

However, Shaked is prepared to agree to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s demand that immediate family members of Israeli citizens be excluded from the count of Ukrainian nationals accepted as part of the quota arrangement.

Speaking at a press conference Sunday night at Ben Gurion National Airport, Shaked discussed the quota, and the Ukrainian embassy in Israel’s petition to the Israeli Supreme Court calling to lift the quota.

The Interior Minister confirmed that Ukrainian nationals who are close relatives of Israeli citizens presently living in Israel will not be counted in the quota.

“Relatives of Israelis will be excluded from the quota and will be able to come to Israel,” said Shaked.

“But we won’t nullify the quota as a whole. We, the Jewish people, who suffered persecutions, understand what it means to be refugees and we open our hearts to those who are not eligible for the Law of Return, but we cannot open the gates to everyone.”

Following Shaked's press conference, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai ripped the decision not to lift the quota on refugees.

“No other country has imposed limits on refugees. This framework is still problematic, and we are again restricting the arrival of refugees and making a distinction between those who have family in Israel and those who do not."

“As I have said again and again in recent days, Israel must take a broader and more active role in the humanitarian effort to rescue Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war. This is the ethical and human act which we must carry out."

“The government or a ministerial committee should determine Israel’s refugee absorption policy, and I intend to raise this proposal tomorrow at the cabinet meeting.”