The various news sources of today are replete with material showing Israel as a land of conflict. The Israelis themselves will often tell you that their land is constantly on the verge of being destroyed – destroyed by Iranians, destroyed by Palestinians, destroyed by international condemnation and lack of support, destroyed by the left, destroyed by the right, destroyed by…the list goes on.
In my many observations about Israel over the years, I have noticed one thing that consistently gets left off the list: how Israel seems to love destroying itself. I should have been telling you about this long before now. I started writing for the Times of Israel a couple of years ago now, but after a few articles I tapered off and concentrated on other things, thinking I would make a decision about writing regularly or not at all once I settled down. I still haven’t settled down, but it’s usually personal situations that spur us to action, and I’m in one of those kinds of situations at this time.
I’ve just completed an epic continent-spanning bicycle tour from Lisbon, Portugal to Amman, Jordan. Absolutely exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually, I decided to to ride my bicycle a few more miles to Israel and take sustenance from friends in the country. Oh, how I looked forward to seeing Shmuel, Liat, and Oryana and Gidi.
When I got to the border, however, I was refused entry. I am now waiting to be escorted by bus back to Jordan. I am an American citizen with no other passport, and have never committed any crime in Israel or any other country, but I am not able to enter Israel. I’m going to tell you the story of how that happened. The narrative may seem convoluted, but when I conclude I’m going to tell you some things about what I see happening with Israel. There is a certain history that you’re going to have to know for everything to make sense.
I lived in Israel in 2018 and 2019, visiting an Ulpan associated with a college in Netanya. While I was there, my application to extend my student visa was denied because the Misrad Hapnim did not recognize the Ulpan as a valid academic institution, so I flew to Berlin to have my visa extended there. I then returned to Netanya to complete my year of study and then returned to the USA.
Fast forward to 2021. I had taken a trip to Spain to look for a publisher for a novel I had just written and to Serbia to visit a friend while I was in Europe. I also decided to visit a rabbi friend of mine in Israel. It was toward the end of the COVID hysteria, and Israeli citizens were at times not being allowed to enter Israel, tourists could not enter at all, and visas were not being issued. While I was in Belgrade, I found out that Israel reopened to tourists, so I hopped on a plane to go visit my friends.
I was deported at the airport as an illegal immigration risk. No reason was given for me being an illegal immigration risk. The Border Control Officer who interviewed me at the airport simply determined that I liked Israel too much because I told him that while I visited my friend, I intended to talk to him about converting to Judaism. Returning to the USA, I contracted an attorney to make sure my immigration record was cleared, paying $3,000 to go through an appeals process.
The opinion of the appellate court stated that the officer who deported me had no information other than basic documents and my own statements to go on, and that his decision to deport me because I looked like someone who might want to stay in Israel was reasonable, and that I could apply through the Israeli Border Control to enter at any time in the future. The judge’s opinion was rather enigmatic to me, but not particularly problematic since it said that I could apply with Border Control to enter Israel in the future.
Again, fast forward to the summer of 2022. I was in a conversion program with a Beit Din in Los Angeles, and decided that I wanted to go back to an Ulpan in Israel to refresh my lackluster Hebrew and make further assessments about what I thought of the country. After all, my experiences were turning out to be not that great. So I was accepted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and made an application for an accompanying student visa. COVID was largely over, and there were no remaining travel restrictions. I had my judicial opinion that I could apply with Border Control to enter, but I was wanting to enter as a student, so I went ahead and applied for a student visa through the Consulate of Israel in Mexico since it was close to where I was living in Guadalajara at that time.
My application for a student visa was denied. No reason was given. My understanding was that I had been blacklisted, somehow in some grand form of irony because I have some kind of an ideological commitment to Israel and Jews. So I made no pretention of returning to Israel until now.
As I mentioned above, I made a last-minute decision to enter Israel via overland entry from Jordan and deal with Border Control, as the judicial opinion I had with me said that I could apply for entry with Border Control. Also as mentioned, I have been turned away. This time not only as an illegal immigration risk, but now as a threat to public safety. Now after so many bizarre and uncomfortable experiences with Israeli authorities, once I got wind that something was amiss, I took the opportunity to record what I could of the conversation with the Border Control Officer who was removing me.
You can see from the document that the Border Control Officer handed me that I was removed for public safety concerns, but you can hear him telling me that I am not a public safety concern. I still don’t understand why he would put that on the paper if it doesn’t correspond to reality. Also, you can hear him tell me to try to fix my problem at an embassy, when the judicial opinion on record was that I shold try to fix my problem through Border Control. And further, oddly, you can hear him tell me that I shouldn’t try to fix my problem in Amman, but to go back to the USA to fix it. I can’t imagine why he would know the best embassy to take care of my issues. It seems that he was giving me a “go back to whatever hole you crawled out of” answer. So I’m going to see what I can accomplish in Amman.
You have now heard a very long and convoluted story about how an American citizen has been blacklisted from even entering Israel really only for demonstrating an interest in Israel and a connection and commitment to the country and the people. It’s a strange story of bureaucratic chaos and what looks to be hostility towards someone with an ideological basis for wanting to go to the country.
At the beginning of this post, I spoke about Israel being at odds with itself – working against itself – destroying itself. Over the years that I have had these problems with my travel record to Israel I contemplated more than once that Israel just hates immigrants. Israel needs more Jews to be a successfully Jewish and democratic state, and here I was deported and banned for simply expressing an interest in converting to Judaism. Yet lately Israel has been bringing people from the Ukraine in by the drove, a situation that is rather admirable. It’s a good thing to provide haven for those who are being destroyed by war. Any Ukrainian with a Jewish grandparent seems to be coming over.
I had previously heard stories about hostility towards converts, hostility towards Russians Jews, and hostility towards elderly Jews. But now the only thing I see is hostility towards those who seem to have an ideological reason for connecting with the people and the country. You can come to Israel to avoid bombs apparently, which is a good thing, but you can’t come to Israel for thinking there is something special about the place.
And as someone who thinks there is something special about Israel, I have seen myself deported for mentioning a conversation about conversion. I have been turned away at the border after being told that I should apply for redress at the border. And I have seen admitted falsehoods written about me by Border Control Offcers. This doesn’t do much for someone who started out with the idea that Israel is a special place and Jews are a special people.
I really have to wonder what people think about that. And that is why I have decided to write this after more than a year away from writing for the Times of Israel.