With the discovery of the latest COVID variant Israel has closed its gates to visitors from all over the world. Some see this move as an over-reaction, while others note that the Omicron variant is spreading in South Africa many times faster than any previous one.
South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, has called on Israel not to close its gates to South African Jews. He is reported as having argued that “the State of Israel is home to every Jew in the world, especially at a time of crisis. Closing the State of Israel totally to world Jewry is to signal to Jewish communities that from Israel’s point of view they are second class Jews”.
The first duty of every nation is to protect its citizens. If those entrusted with making these difficult choices believe that this is the right course of action for Israel to pursue at this time, then we have no alternative other than to respect their decision.
We remember only too well when thousands of charedim were allowed to fly in from New York last year to escape the virus that was ravaging their communities. Some of them may well have helped to spread the virus in Israel.
Opening our gates to Jews from around the world while preventing non-Jews from entering would quite understandably and justifiably lead to claims of racism and discrimination.
Diaspora Jews are not second-class Jews, but, at the same time, they are not Israelis. We who have chosen to make our home in Israel live, as Naomi Shemer put it, with “the honey and the sting”. We have the privilege of living in a Jewish State in which Jews enjoy sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years, but it also comes with a price.
Only last week Eliyahu Kay z”l, a South African Jew, who made Aliyah to Israel and served in the IDF, was gunned down by a terrorist in the Old City of Jerusalem. We remember the Gulf War when we sheltered with gas masks in our bomb shelters while rockets rained down on Tel Aviv, and the 2nd Intifada in which over one thousand Israelis were massacred and many more injured and maimed, some for life.
We may be one people, but Jews who live in the Diaspora are not Israelis, and our country cannot be expected to put its citizens at risk by providing a lifeboat any time our fellow Jews who choose to live elsewhere feel in danger.
Not every Jew will choose to live in Israel, but that too comes with a price.