Mordechai de Haas
Ger; Haredi; retired Lieutenant Colonel; Russian security academic

How Israel discourages newcomers

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Three years ago, I came from Holland to Israel to convert to Judaism, become an Israeli citizen, and subsequently learn Torah. In June of this year I finished my Aliyah process after selling my Dutch apartment and transporting my belongings to Israel. But instead of a nice welcome as a new immigrant, I have since been confronted by bureaucratic procedures that make my life miserable. Instead of learning Torah I am forced to spend a lot of time fighting state institutions that are after my money, or otherwise affect my life. If my case is representative for new immigrants, then the State of Israel has to carry out a lot of points of improvement to make itself hospitable for newcomers.

When you arrive in Israel as a poor Russian immigrant with just a suitcase, there is nothing to fear, but when you come here with all your belongings and a decent pension as a former military officer, you are harassed by the Health Department, Income Taxes, Municipal Taxes, Rent Assistance, Customs and the Transportation Department. To such an extent that on occasion I was in doubt if I wanted to continue living in Israel. Is that the way to treat a new immigrant? On paper everything looks good for an oleh, however the reality in Israel’s bureaucracy is to the contrary. The beautiful brochure of the Ministry of Aliyah makes nice promises, but the fulfilment of them is a different story.

ALIYAH AND CORONA. In June, arriving from Amsterdam at Ben Gurion, with what I considered as my Aliyah flight, I was confronted with a nasty surprise. I intended to go home to do the Corona isolation there. However, according to the Health Department officers at the airport my facilities at home were not sufficient, and they forced me to go to Corona ‘hotel’ in Jerusalem. Is that the way of welcoming a new immigrant, by directly taking away his freedom of handling? Such practices are that of a totalitarian state, not of a democracy. Fortunately, my colleague military officers, of the Home Front, were helpful and understanding and released me from this ‘hotel’ – in reality a prison, since you are not allowed to leave your room – the next day.

Unfortunately, this was not the only time I was confronted with the rigidity of the Health Department. Last month I caught Corona. After my recovery I received a permission of release and hence, ending of isolation. However, only a couple of days later the Health Department sent me an SMS that I had been near a Corona patient and that I immediately should go into isolation, or otherwise sanctions would follow. Unfortunately – I would nearly say as always in Israel – no possibility was offered to protest against this in English; the fact was that at the time of possible infection I was at home. Each following day I received more threats if I did not isolate, with a fine up to NIS 3,000. Only with the help of a friend who acted on my behalf to the Health Department the threatening SMSs stopped. And my trust in the Health Department as well! Welcome to Israel?

INCOME TAXES. According to the Aliyah benefits, the new immigrant does not have to pay income taxes for 10 years. In my case I don’t have to pay income taxes ever in Israel, because as a former military officer, according to the tax treaty between Israel and the Netherlands, I only pay income taxes on my pension to the Dutch Taxes Authority. However, the reality is that each year I receive an Israeli Income Taxes Assessment, with the threat that my bank account will be blocked and possessions taken if I don’t pay. Welcome to Israel? Consequently, each year I need to go to the Income Tax Office to find a civil servant willing to relief me from payment, whereas this exemption of tax payment should be arranged permanently in the taxes system, which would save me and the Taxes Authority time and trouble.

MUNICIPAL TAXES. The Aliyah Department claims that the new immigrant pays only 10% arnona (municipal taxes) for 12 months. Again, the reality is contrary to this promise. Since March I have sent multiple emails to my municipality, which consistently is charging me thousands of shekels of arnona, whereas I only should pay a couple of hundred per month. Again, and again I have sent them the forms and explanations they required, but they keep on harassing me. Welcome to Israel?

RENT ASSISTANCE. The Aliyah benefits describe four years of rent assistance beginning in the 8th month following Aliyah. The practice is that more than a half year long I have made many visits to the relevant agency. Each time they have sent me back, to fill in another form, to supply another salary slip, another letter, etc, etc. Since these demands never stopped, in the end I have given up my efforts. Welcome to Israel?

CUSTOMS AND TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT. This is the most devastating story of all. The customs charged me exorbitant taxes for taking my old car with me from Holland and so did the Transportation Department with regard to my vehicle license. I see my car as a part of my belongings, like furniture, which therefore should not be taxed at all for an immigrant. However, in total, to get my car into Israel and on the road, a car of 18 years old, I had to pay double its value in Holland and even three times its value in Israel! Is ‘robbing’ a new immigrant the way to welcome people to Israel?

As such are my dreadful experiences with Israel’s state institutions. I am very disappointed in the country I always wanted to live in. The reader might say, so why do you want to live here if the state treats you in such a nasty way? Indeed, this is not the whole story, let me end positively. First of all, from a political and governmental point of view, the following. Every state has shortcoming and sometimes maltreats its citizens. In the Dutch news I also see frequently examples of this. Furthermore, Israel is a democracy with rule of law. For example, here a (former) Prime Minister can be prosecuted. Whereas in the totalitarian regime of the Russia of Putin, in which he controls the executive, legislative and judicial powers, such a concept is unthinkable.

Secondly, from a religious point of view. I came here to become a Jew and lead a religious life. No matter how miserable the state treats me, I am able to do so. In this state with all its failings, there is a multitude of yeshiva’s and synagogues where I can study. And this state has a strong army that provides security for all, also that religious persons can study under an umbrella of protection. And yes, also with Haredi soldiers in IDF guarding us! Furthermore, the Gemara states that living in the Land (Israel) comes with difficulties. That I have certainly experienced. Nevertheless, I rejoice each day that I am a Jew and that I live in Israel. I know that I have reached my destination. No rigid state bureaucracy can stop me from feeling this: I am here to stay!

About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Netherlands Army (retired) Dr. Mordechai de Haas is Affiliated Professor and Research Fellow on Russian security policy towards the Middle East, National Security Studies Centre, University of Haifa. He served with UNIFIL in Lebanon in 1980 as a conscript of the Dutch army. He holds an PhD on Russian security policy. At the Netherlands Defence Staff he was responsible for drafting the first Netherlands Defence Doctrine in 2005.
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