Michael Segal
Michael Segal
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Israel to Diaspora: Stay away

3 key ways the Jewish state could streamline the process of welcoming vaccinated visitors from abroad
Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Israel did a wonderful job at vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, but it is doing a terrible job at allowing vaccinated people from the Diaspora to visit.

Part of the problem is failures outside Israel, most notably the unwillingness of the United States to maintain verifiable vaccination records, which I criticized in January, in the Wall Street Journal. Israel has sensibly decided to use antibody status rather than the paper cards given to those vaccinated in the USA, since those cards can be obtained without showing identification and are easily faked. But Israel has not used its technological and logistical capabilities to offer a rapid antibody test at the airport, or better yet, before boarding the flight. So, a vaccinated visitor must find a test provider in Israel, travel to the test provider, and, until a result is returned, have a place to quarantine that has a separate room and bathroom. That is often not possible without booking a hotel room.

A bigger hurdle is the need to apply for a travel permit three to four weeks before getting on the plane. One of the more complex requirements is the need to prove that one has a first-degree relative in Israel. This is not so difficult for males with male relatives, but for women, there are often name changes with marriage. My 92-year-old mother tells me that she does want me to visit, but she can’t locate the documentation of the name change when she remarried decades ago after my father died. And worse, her name on my birth certificate is her maiden name, so we have a whole chain of name changes to document.

But surely Israeli consulates are there to help? No, they are overwhelmed by the bureaucratic requirements for issuing the travel permits. The consulate in Boston has stopped answering phone calls and has a two-week wait to answer emails. And if you get through a series of interactions and have a travel permit issued, it expires after two weeks, so the timing of your visit cannot be known until shortly before the trip.

Another requirement for a vaccinated traveler is to prove having health insurance that would cover COVID treatment in Israel. For those who got one of the mRNA vaccines, and showed a strong antibody response, the probability of such a severe illness is so far below one percent as to be negligible, even if one were exposed to the virus. And of course, Israel is one of the places in the world where one is least likely to be exposed.

And after jumping through all these hoops, are you included in the Green Pass system? No, you need to apply for that by yourself at the Ministry of Health based on your antibody test, and it is unclear how long that takes.

If Israel applied the prowess it demonstrated in speedily vaccinating its own population, it could do far better in welcoming visits from the Diaspora. Specifically, it should do the following:

  • Offer a one-hour antibody test at the airport upon arrival, or better yet, before departure to Israel, with automatic inclusion in the Green Pass system, so you can get right onto the train to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
  • Cancel the insurance requirement for those with a positive antibody test.
  • Cancel the requirement for proving that an Israeli is a first-degree relative, or instead allow an attestation by the traveler and the relative together with a copy of the relative’s Teudat Zehut (identity card).

Israel’s current attitude to visits from vaccinated people in the Diaspora is best summarized in two words: “Stay away.” There are already some difficult problems between Israel and the Diaspora, but the travel issue is well within Israel’s capabilities to solve.

About the Author
Michael Segal is a neurologist and neuroscientist in the United States.
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