The day the country I loved deported me

My passport was confiscated. My mug shots were taken, I was fingerprinted, and branded persona non grata.
Illustrative image via iStock
Illustrative image via iStock

The painful images of Jewish refugees being sent back to Europe by countries who were indifferent to their plight is one that evokes a sense of justifiable outrage. I’m profoundly saddened that the State of Israel is so ignorant of these historical associations that just a few weeks ago, it deported a law-abiding Jewish visitor to Germany, and threatened to do the same to his family.

I’m a Canadian Zionist academic. I spent a magical year in Israel in the ’80s and returned at the height of the second intifada to be married in the land I loved. Last year, I brought my family to spend my sabbatical in Israel. My wish was for them to share an experience similar to the one I’d enjoyed in my youth, which helped cement my life-long connection to this country.

The Technion, hosting me as an academic visitor, instructed me and my family to enter the country on regular B2 visas (good for 90 days) and then submit the paperwork to extend the visas for the duration of our stay. I faxed the Ministry of Interior, including the official visa extension request from the Technion, and was given a visa appointment a couple of months later. We met with the Ministry, provided all the documentation that was requested of us, including confirmation of our being Jewish, and returned home. A month later, I wrote to ask when we might expect news as to the extension to our visas, which by then had long since expired. I was particularly concerned about leaving Israel, without the visa extension, to attend a conference in Europe. Would I have trouble at the airport? “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. Just be patient.” I was told by Misrad Hapnim’s representatives.

And so, we waited. And waited. Still awaiting the visa extensions, just a month prior to my scheduled conference trip, I asked the Technion for assistance but was told to take it up with the Interior Ministry. However, my multiple attempts to reach the ministry by phone, by email, by web form, and by fax (when the lines were actually functioning) were ignored. I took my chances, flew to the conference, and, fortunately, was issued a new B2 visitor’s visa upon my return, seemingly indicating that everything was fine.

The next month, I flew out again to attend another academic event. I expected my return, late at night at the start of the Shavuot weekend, to proceed as before. This time, though, it didn’t. “You’ve overstayed your visa. You’re not allowed to re-enter Israel.” My explanation of the chronology of the ongoing visa extension process fell on deaf ears. My status as a visiting guest of the Technion made no difference. My recent B2 visa? “Doesn’t matter.” My family’s airline tickets to depart Israel at the end of our sabbatical stay three weeks later? “Oh, they should be deported too.”

My passport was confiscated. My mug shots were taken, I was fingerprinted, and branded persona non grata. My attempts to speak to someone higher up reached the most unsympathetic of Israeli audiences: “I don’t want to hear your story.” My wife, fast asleep when I called to let her know what was happening, thought she was having a bad dream. I advised her to pack her bags, and those of our children, in case there’s a knock at the door. A few hours later, I was put on a plane, heading to Germany.

I decided to wait for my family members to join me in Europe, so started making my way eastward to stay somewhere affordable. But I couldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours for the next few nights as the sequence of events at Ben Gurion kept playing through my head. My love for Israel was shattered. I’d been betrayed by the country I so strongly supported for so many years.

Only by way of exposing this saga in the Canadian Jewish press, and with the help of the most wonderful mentor, highly placed in political circles, whose intervention reached through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli consulates in Canada, was I re-admitted. Five days after being deported, I returned, albeit reluctantly. Rather than the emotional high I experienced on every prior landing at TLV, this time, I felt only bitterness. I requested from the relevant officials an explanation, an apology, reimbursement of my “deportation travel” expenses, and most importantly, my record as an “illegal immigrant” expunged. To date, the response to these requests has been a deafening silence. Not a word from the Technion, the consulate, or the Interior Ministry. Apparently, they couldn’t care less.

Further details can be found at this link.

About the Author
Jeremy Cooperstock is a professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a member of the Centre for Intelligent Machines, and a founding member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. During his undergraduate studies, he spent a year with IBM at the Haifa Research Center and a summer with Fibronics Israel, without encountering visa issues.
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