Every year over 300,000 Israelis visit the U.S. and they all have to obtain a visa through the U.S. Embassy located in Tel Aviv which processes over 1,500 visitor visas each workday. Each workday also sees the rejection of over ninety visitor visa applications by U.S. Consular officers.
Bills to include Israel in the Visa Waiver Program are in the U.S. Congress now and may be currently blocked by the behind-the-scenes opposition of the Israeli government.
Having been in the Jerusalem home of a relative when her daughter tearfully came home after her application for a U.S. visitor’s visa had been rejected by a consular officer who suspected that the girl, having just finished her IDF service and wanting to visit the U.S. before she proceeded with a job, education, marriage, etc., was actually planning to emigrate to the U.S. from Israel.
There was no convincing the consular officer that emigration from Israel was the farthest thing from her mind and her seven generation Jerusalem family, on her father’s side, longevity in Israel was inconsequential and there was no appeal.
It was a needless slap in the face to a responsible young lady who did her national service, painstakingly worked and saved up on her own for her trip and was no different than her friends who she was going to travel with who did receive their visas except they had Ashkenazi or European last names and she had a characteristic Mizrachi or oriental last name of her many-generations-in-Jerusalem family on her father’s side and not her mom’s European last name.
Every day thousands of Israelis wonder what goes through the mind of the U.S. consular officers who wave the applicants to the right or left.
The following was written by a former U.S. Consular Officer as a blog on the Los Angeles Jewish Journal website and removed by the editors when the flagrant discrimination regarding some Jewish visitor visa applicants in Tel Aviv was pointed out to them.
Lapid, Lazy Haredim, and American Visas
Posted by Mark Paredes
February 4, 2013 | 12:57 am
I have never commented publicly on the results of an Israeli election, even while speaking on behalf of the local Israeli Consulate General, but it’s hard to hide my glee at the success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. In particular, I salute his determination to follow his father’s example by attempting to take on the corrupt political party Shas and the 45,000 deadbeats in the Haredi community who believe in studying Torah on the public dole.
I’ll never forget my first experience with a shiftless Haredi rabbi. I was conducting visa interviews at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, and had only been in Israel for a few weeks. After inquiring about his studies and family, including eight children, I noticed that he had left the “present occupation” space blank. When I asked him what he did for a living, he replied “I study Torah.” Incredulous, I asked who in his family was providing the money to raise the children. Without a hint of shame or embarrassment, he informed me that his wife worked while he studied all day. I denied him a visa, then told him that his wife was welcome to apply for a visa because she was working. His response? “I hope you join Jesus in hell.” This experience, combined with my witnessing Haredi students strewing broken glass on the streets of Jerusalem on the eve of Yom Kippur, didn’t exactly endear the ultra-Orthodox to me at first.
During my diplomatic tour in Tel Aviv, I denied a tourist visa to every single able-bodied Haredi man whose “job” was studying Torah and Talmud. This was not an easy policy for me to establish. After all, I cherish people’s freedom to do just about whatever they want in terms of religious practice without needing others’ approval. In addition, it was (and still is) up to Israelis to decide whether their tax dollars should subsidize laziness and sloth. Finally, I am someone who has engaged in a serious study of the scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, for many years, and have enormous respect for those who dedicate a significant portion of their time to religious studies. That said, I will always believe that God’s commandment in the Torah for man to work by the sweat of his brow is an eternal one, and that it is unnatural for an able-bodied man to want to shift the burden of providing for his family to his wife and the government.
In the end I decided that it wasn’t fair to adjudicate visa applications according to my personal religious philosophy. However, it was perfectly acceptable to conclude that the Haredi lifestyle did not meet the requirements of American immigration law.
When a visa applicant stood in front of me, the burden of proving his/her intentions didn’t fall upon me. Instead, the applicant had to show me that he had ties to Israel that he would not willingly abandon. For able-bodied men around the world, a stable job is pretty much indispensable in order to show that he is a responsible member of society. For me, denying unemployed adult yeshiva students visas was not discrimination against their religion, but a refusal to grant them special privileges based on their peculiar religious practices. Having served as a consular officer in Guadalajara, I knew that if a 30-year-old Catholic Mexican man with several children applied for a visa and stated that he was unemployed, he would be laughed out of the consulate. There was no reason for a diplomat in Tel Aviv to make a different visa decision because the applicant in question wore a black hat instead of a sombrero.
Thankfully, I did go on to have positive experiences with some Haredis in Israel, including a few who took me to a wedding celebration in Kfar Chabad. I learned that the Haredi educational system leaves its graduates woefully unable to compete in the modern world, so that even if some of the yeshiva students wanted to leave their studies and find a good job, they would have a very difficult time doing so. Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef told the Torah scholars that they would be better off leaving the country than submitting to a military draft like their secular counterparts. One only wishes that Rabbi Yosef would lead by example on this one.
I wish Mr. Lapid well in his upcoming battle with Rabbi Yosef and the deadbeat supporters of his corrupt political machine. The term “Haredi” means “those who tremble before God.” Assuming that God values hard work and honest politics, many Haredi men will have a lot to tremble about in a coming day.