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Zelenskyy to give Zoom speech to Israeli Knesset Sunday

With the Knesset on recess and many parliamentarians on vacation, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said they will both attend the Zoom-delivered address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy March 20.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the US Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces, at the US Capitol, Washington, March 16, 2022.

The address of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the Knesset makes headlines even before it is delivered. Zelenskyy is set to address Knesset members and government ministers via Zoom March 20 at 6 p.m. local time. The legislators and ministers will not be allowed to ask Zelenskyy questions or respond to his address, even if they speak Ukrainian or Russian. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid decided March 16 they will both attend the video speech, partly because they fear not many lawmakers will attend it. Reportedly, since the Knesset is on recess since March 11, many of its members went on holiday abroad and might not connect to the Zoom call.

On March 16, Zelenskyy addressed the US Congress, also via videoconferencing.

Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov expressed dissatisfaction March 16 over Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy’s decision to facilitate Zelenskyy’s address to Israeli parliamentarians. Reportedly, Viktorov did not request from Levy to cancel the speech, but did offer him to have members of the Russian parliament brief Knesset members about Moscow’s positions on the war. It is unclear if Levy accepted the offer.

The Financial Times reported March 16 that Bennett was the lead mediator between Russia and Ukraine. Citing three officials familiar with the matter, the newspaper said talks that were mediated by Bennett led to the first draft of the cease-fire agreement that is currently being discussed.

Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor currently blocks access to several Western media websites, including at least two Russian-language outlets based in Israel. Russian-language Israeli TV news Channel 9 and Russian-language site Vesti of the Yedioth Ahronoth group both appear on Roskomnadzor’s list of banned media outlets. The reason for the block is apparently the use of the word "war" — not "military operation" — by the two media organs to describe the conflict in Ukraine. The two sites address first and foremost the large Russian-speaking public in Israel, but are also read/watched in Russia. Hundreds of Israelis, mostly of Ukrainian origin, demonstrated March 5 in front of the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv in protest against the invasion of Ukraine.

On March 16, Israel’s Welfare Ministry said it will grant health care and housing assistance to the thousands of Ukrainian refugees entering the country. In a statement the ministry said, “According to the plan, the Welfare Ministry will provide the refugees with temporary housing, food assistance, material assistance, social services and other rights like health insurance and enrollment in the education system.” 

The statement also said some 15 million Israeli shekels ($4.6 million) were allocated for the refugee assistance programs. The ministry estimates that the cost of assistance will be around 1,000 shekels ($308) per refugee, expecting to receive in the coming days more Ukrainians seeking asylum, up to a total of 15,000. The primary assistance services will be granted to the arriving Ukrainians until they receive formal recognition by the state as refugees — a process that can take several weeks. Once recognized, they will be eligible for more assistance and benefits, including work permits.

Welfare Minister Meir Cohen said that his ministry would cooperate with civil society groups to facilitate assistance for the refugees, stating, "This [helping refugees] is our moral obligation as Jews and Israelis, and we see this obligation as a great honor."

According to the Israel Population Authority, as of March 16, some 6,500 Ukrainian refugees had arrived in Israel since the war broke out Feb. 24. This number does not include some 4,000 Ukrainian nationals eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which offers Israeli nationality to any person with a Jewish grandparent, who arrived to Israel during the same period. Those arriving under the Law of Return are automatically eligible for an assistance package and benefits, unrelated to the war in Ukraine.

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