Steve Rodan
Steve Rodan

Israel’s White Paper? US Jews find locked doors

The Law of Return isn't working. American Jews aren't being allowed to move to Israel. What is going on?!
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)

Chavi Rosenberg decided to make the move: COVID-19 had kept her home; the violence on the streets of New York came awfully close to her street. There was no future in America, and she decided that Israel would be her home.

The problem was that Israel decided the exact opposite.

Rosenberg, not her real name, has been waiting for nearly a year for a decision to be allowed to make aliyah. Working with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the contractor for the Israeli government, she obediently filled in all the forms, obtained a letter from a local rabbi that she was Jewish and thus eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

Then, the Israeli consulate took over. The bureaucrats demanded documents from as long as 60 years ago. She had to bring marriage certificates, birth certificates, and other official documents that had nothing to do with Israel. Then, she was told to contact the FBI and submit her fingerprints. The Americans would have the last word over whether she could leave the country.

Over the last year, Israel has essentially suspended the Law of Return. Aliyah, particularly from the United States, has never been lower. And applications by American Jews have never been higher. Antisemitism rages throughout America and all but the most assimilated fear the worst. Those who never thought of moving from the Golden Medina now see Israel as their only option.

“We’ve seen unprecedented interest since spring 2020,” Nefesh B’Nefesh vice president Marc Rosenberg said. “Past national or international events sparked inquiries and applications — but never like this.”

Still, Israel is determined to keep its doors locked to American Jews. In June 2020, the Jewish Agency predicted that 50,000 Jews overall would resettle in Israel. Instead, only 20,000 were reported to have been allowed in the country. Jews who applied under the Law of Return were told to wait and wait for a decision by the Israeli government. Last spring, the drop in aliyah reached 70 percent, compared to the same period in the previous year.

COVID-19 was the official reason for the drop in aliyah. But virtually every other country did not place restrictions on the return of their citizens — and the Law of Return guarantees citizenship. European Union countries and the United States simply mandated a two-week quarantine for anybody entering the country.

The official numbers speak for themselves: In 2020, North American Jews submitted nearly 8,000 applications for aliyah — double that of the previous year. In the first three months of 2021, the rate of submissions from Canada and the United States was 30% above that of 2020. The Jewish Agency has estimated that 250,000 Jews could make aliyah — if Israel would allow it.

Officially, Nefesh B’Nefesh, which has been facilitating aliyah for nearly 20 years, has kept silent over Israel’s closed-door policy. Rosenberg attributed the drop in aliyah from North America to what he termed a “logistical problem.”

That’s not how many American Jews see it. Their first stop in attempting aliyah was working with Nefesh B’Nefesh. After a few months, Nefesh B’Nefesh relayed the applications to the Israeli consulates. There, the process virtually stopped. The questions of the Israeli bureaucrats were dismissive, even harsh: “Why do you want to come to Israel?” “What are you going to do in Israel?” “Who are your family members and where do they live?” “Do you have property in America?” Suddenly, these Jews understood that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for wanting to come home.

Nefesh B’Nefesh has acknowledged this. The Law of Return has become selective.

“The Jewish Agency for Israel will approve your aliyah based on the criteria set by the Israeli government,” Nefesh B’Nefesh, referring to North American immigrants, says on its website. “They will let you know directly that you can make aliyah and will confirm your status based on your family history.”

American Jews have also been unable to visit Israel — whether to attend celebrations or simply see their families. Joe Fineman, who feared to use his real name to avoid retaliation, was given a huge list of medical requirements before he would be eligible to enter Israel. It did not impress Israeli authorities that Fineman had undergone two vaccinations and was given a clean bill of health by his physician.

Neither Israel nor the media have addressed the new policy of blocking entry to most Jews, particularly from the United States. But Washington has long indicated that it does not want its Jews to resettle in Israel. The reason is capital flight: once an American Jew settles in Israel, regardless of whether he is a tourist, permanent resident or citizen, he can withdraw his money from his US bank account, sell his home, and essentially transfer his assets.

Since at least 2010, US Customs officers have been stationed in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport near the counter at El Al and other airlines that fly to Israel. They are looking for Jews. The ones who look most Jewish, the Orthodox, have been asked to open their baggage, empty their pockets and sometimes even submit to a body search to make sure they were not taking any more than a minimum amount of cash with them.

Sometimes, the officers overlooked a Jew. If the flight included a stopover, the officers would then call customs authorities in that country and order them to do a search.

Even Israeli citizens who have lived in America for years find it extremely difficult to return. Israel has demanded that they pay tens of thousands of shekels to the National Insurance Institute before they will be allowed basic medical and other services. Most of these Israelis simply cannot afford that, and remain in America in fear.

The repercussions of this policy could be lethal, as violence against Jews has become the norm in the United States. It also represents a throwback to an earlier time when the Zionist leadership submitted to an indefinite closure of Eretz Yisrael. In May 1939, as Hitler was deporting Jews from Germany to the wastelands of Poland, the British announced the White Paper. Officially, London would allow 15,000 Jews a year for the next five years into Palestine. Actually, the British permitted no more than several hundred Jews a year from Europe, all of them chosen by the Zionist leadership.

Then, the Jewish community had been under British occupation. Who is occupying Israel today?

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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