The government needs to show it cares about Olim

With no end in sight for Corona, the government needs to show flexibility and sensitivity to first-degree relatives of Olim who live in the diaspora, not just to Miss Universe contestants or Birthright participants…

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Since Covid-19 hit Israel over two years ago, the Oleh community has suffered a tremendous amount of heartache because of the previous government’s entry policy towards non-Israeli citizens.

The process of applying for an entry permit was an ever-changing process of form filling and dealing with the inept bureaucracy of local Israeli consulates. Over in Israel, desperate Olim would queue for hours in the hope of getting inside the local Interior Ministry branch to make a request on behalf of their family members.

And yet, with Israel once again slamming the doors shut to most incoming travel, the ‘Change’ government seems even more out of touch when it comes to the valid needs of its immigrants.

We understand the necessity to protect Israeli citizens from the virus and prevent the healthcare system from being overloaded once again, but the draconian restrictions do not appear to be based on sound logic. Yes, there are exceptions – but they only apply to a tiny minority. And the people who want to visit most – diaspora family members of Olim – have once again seen their dreams of reuniting with their families crushed.

If the gates of Israel were firmly shut to both incoming and outgoing travel – that would be a genuine demonstration of a government trying to protect its citizens.

But, when Miss Universe contestants can travel to Israel, and now with Birthright participants being allowed in, it just rubs salt deep into the wounds of desperate Olim and their family members.

So far we know the Omicron variant is very contagious. However, the symptoms have been reported to be milder than the Delta variant. People who had a booster shot are mostly protected against serious illness.

With this knowledge, why ban entry to Israel from people who have had three vaccine shots and are willing to sit in quarantine until they get a negative PCR result? And if that individual is a family member of an Oleh – shouldn’t that be even more of a reason to grant them entry?

The Prime Minister is aware of the problems the entry restrictions have caused, because he actually issued an official apology to diaspora Jewry in America.

In one letter to JFNA chairman Mark Wilf, he said that although his primary responsibility is to protect Israeli citizens, “we are well aware of the pain being caused, and you have my word that we will do all we can to help Jews around the world visit Israel again as soon as possible.”

And now Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has waived through an exemption for ‘Jewish tourism’, including Birthright and Jewish heritage trips.

What this means is that tourists with little to no connection with Israel are prioritized and can visit Israel, while family members of an Olim who made the sacrifice of leaving behind their place of birth and family to make Aliyah, cannot.

Olim are different from native Israelis, and one area where the difference is glaringly obvious is that of family. Many Olim face the challenge of being a new immigrant without the stability of their family to support them when times get tough.

And just like most Olim, I’ve been hit hard. My wedding went from 300 to 80 guests with only my brother and parents given an exception to attend. My sister who made Aliyah had to wait months before she could finally have my mother visit her and her new grandchild.

Just this week my parents and brother have once again been denied the right to reunite with us. This comes not just at a financial cost, but an emotional one.

While my family missed out on joyful events, I cannot imagine the agony of those who were unable to visit their sick relatives and missed the funerals of their loved ones in Israel. The recent incident involving the family and friends of Eli Kay זצ”ל was horrifying. They arrived at Ben Gurion for his funeral and were simply denied entry and forced aboard a plane to Dubai, causing these religious Jews to break Shabbat.

The government invests so much in Hasbara and promoting Aliyah, but why would anyone even consider making Aliyah after witnessing the way existing Olim and their diaspora families are treated? 

Organizations such as Dov Lipman’s Yad L-Olim work tirelessly and have had some limited success in gaining exceptions for family permits. But an ex-MK shouldn’t have to be the primary advocate for Olim.

The Minister of Immigration and Absorption of Israel, Pnina Tamano-Shata, (who came to Israel from Ethiopia as a baby), should.

She was willing to bring down the government for the rights of Ethiopian Jewry and Aliyah (including joining a valid demonstration by her community outside the Knesset) yet doesn’t do much for the rest of us Olim.

It’s not difficult to draw conclusions about this sad predicament for Olim and their diaspora families.

Miss Universe went ahead because it was important for Hasbara and turning Israel into a powerhouse for hosting major events in the world of culture and sport. Canceling would have been a PR disaster.

And Jewish tourism? We know that the diaspora community in the US holds a certain level of sway in Israel, as Prime Minister Bennett’s letter of apology demonstrated. And when Taglit-Birthright is responsible for bringing tens of thousands of people over to Israel each year – when they complain – the Israeli government listens.

The sad fact is that sentiment and sensitivity to the needs of Olim are in short supply. The only way the government will work better for Olim is for Olim to have fair, effective representation in the Knesset halls.

And until that happens, what can we do?

Shout. Loudly.

The decision-makers in the Knesset need to hear us clearly. It’s time to stop acting like the friers they think we are and make this government work for ALL it’s citizens, Olim included.

About the Author
London born, always felt Israeli - now I officially am. Sephardi of Iraqi-Indian heritage and take pride in my roots. Believes in fighting the good fight, even if it involves swimming against the current when it comes to religion, food and politics.