Has Israel damaged ties with diaspora Jews by closing doors during COVID?

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Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Israeli officials repeatedly failed to take the Jewish diaspora’s connection to the country into account when making decisions on health and economic matters.

At a time when nearly all polls show that the Jewish connection with Israel is waning, especially among young Jews, the situation could lead to a catastrophic decline in support for the Jewish state.

On Sunday evening, thousands of people tried to board planes to return to Israel after more than 18 months of the Jewish state’s ban, as Israel’s new travel rules came into effect on the 1st. November. But when they arrived at the airports with all the requested documentation, they were unable to board their flights.

The required registration form was not yet updated on the Ministry of Health website and airlines had not been notified of the policy change. It took hours of tears and stress until Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz took action and asked his ministry to tell airlines they could allow inbound passengers with vaccination documents. to board their planes.

Yet some people never made it to the plane.

Travelers at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL / FLASH90)

The situation highlights that the majority of officials do not understand the complex, long and expensive preparations that most foreigners require to travel to Israel from halfway around the world. They fail to recognize the desire and excitement that some of these tourists – or in many cases, family members and friends of people living in Israel – feel as they prepare for a “mission” in the country. .

“There has been a complete lack of care for the human emotions and mental health of those who have tried to come to Israel throughout the corona crisis,” said Yad L’Olim founder Dov Lipman, who has helped first-degree relatives of new immigrants. get permission to come to Israel in the last few months.

Banning diaspora Jews and Christian Zionists from entering Israel also sent a message to these potential visitors that they are not needed and that tourism is not really part of the country’s national and historical identity, but rather something good to have that Israel can do well. without.

Israel has logically gone to great lengths to protect its start-up culture, to send parents back to work and children to school. But he waited until the very end of a fourth wave of the virus to find a method to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals – and many believe the new rules make the situation even more complicated, at least for some.

For example, people who have recovered from COVID-19 and who do not live in one of the countries that provide digital recovery certificates are prohibited from entering Israel. However, people with paper vaccination certificates can be admitted inside.

The health ministry cited concerns about positive PCR results and forged recovery certificates as the reason for the move. However, it’s just as easy (if not easier) to fake a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card as a PCR test, which makes the decision illogical.

In addition, Israelis are considered to be fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine or a Pfizer booster within seven days of the second injection or third vaccine. But in an unexpected twist, just days before the new travel guidelines rolled out, the Department of Health changed the waiting period between getting the vaccine and being considered fully protected to 14 days – only for those tourists. This means that people who ran for a reminder and bought a ticket to come to Israel a week later were now ineligible to enter.

    WOMAN RECEIVES her third COVID vaccine at a Clalit Health Fund center in Jerusalem.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / THE JERUSALEM POST) WOMAN RECEIVES her third COVID vaccine at a Clalit Health Fund center in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM / THE JERUSALEM POST)

Nowhere in the new regulations does it say that travel insurance was now compulsory to enter the country, and there is no form that asks for it. However, the health ministry told The Jerusalem Post that it was necessary and that it should add this information to the website because “it may be required to present it at the airport.”

“Once the rules and procedures were established due to health issues, the process had to be clear and there had to be real implementation of those decisions,” Lipman said. “There has been colossal failure on both fronts, and it continues to this day.”

“The obstacles, obstacles, anguish and stress that Jews had to go through to get to Israel, according to the rules, led many people to believe that Israel does not really welcome them into the Jewish state,” did he declare.

The situation, of course, did not start with the Bennett administration, but dates back to mid-March 2020 when former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned all foreigners from entering the country in the first place.

It wasn’t until April 2021 that Israel began granting entry permits to first-degree vaccinated relatives of people living in Israel. But even then, the entry process was complicated and convoluted, and many struggled to get permission to come.

Last June, the government began allowing small groups of vaccinated tourists to enter Israel as part of a pilot program, which was supposed to expand in July to allow individual vaccinated tourists to enter the country. But letting in individual travelers has been continually pushed back – first to August 1, then indefinitely – until this last glimpse.

In addition, the group visits were short-lived because as the infection increased, the government labeled the majority of the world “red” or “orange,” effectively banning inbound travel from most countries or countries. requiring people to self-isolate for at least seven days after entering.

It was not until mid-September that the pilot in a small group set off again. And when it did, while it was nice for the tour guides, some said it looked like yet another blow to the majority of the Jewish community in the Diaspora, who understood that Israel preferred to allow a group of Chinese tourists to the country rather than a lone soldier’s Jewish grandmother.

Members of the Jewish diaspora and the Christian Zionist community are differently but equally devastated, they said.

Lipman spoke of receiving messages from travelers, such as, “Apparently Israel would rather I go on vacation to Canada and Mexico and not to my homeland. “

One person said that if she had known Israel would have treated her this way during COVID, she wouldn’t have been so supportive so far.

Others said, “Why doesn’t Israel think of me too?

Rather than creating a safe haven, the government has turned the visit to the Jewish home into a real burden.

Historically, when the world turned its back on the Jewish people, Israel opened its arms. The country could have hosted Jews from communities most affected by COVID, places without good hospitals or enough vaccines. Instead, he banned these people and everyone else from coming here.

While unrelated to COVID, the announcement earlier this week that the country plans to ban the use of apartments as vacation rentals in the center of the country through property rental services such as Airbnb will make further raise prices and will make it more difficult for people to come to Israel in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

    Diaspora Jews at Ben Gurion Airport after making aliyah in Israel.  (credit: L'AGENCE JUIVE) Diaspora Jews at Ben Gurion Airport after making aliyah in Israel. (credit: L’AGENCE JUIVE)

Tourists could eventually decide to travel elsewhere.

The coronavirus can cause serious illness. Israel is first obliged to protect its own citizens. And health officials have pointed out that the variants are more likely to come from abroad via the airport than to be developed inside Israel.

This most recent Delta wave was triggered by families who traveled overseas and failed to quarantine their unvaccinated children upon their return. But these were Israeli travelers who could come and go almost as they pleased, while even vaccinated and recovered tourists who were willing to self-quarantine just to enter Israel were banned.

If the government had appreciated the olim whose families are abroad and unable to see their loved ones, if it cared about the Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel as it says, then it could have found solutions.

Why has no leader ever been put in place to come up with a better strategy?

Perhaps this is because the tourism ministry only accounted for 5.9% of the country’s GDP in 2019, and the COVID pandemic has ultimately been a boon to Israel’s high-tech sector, making the shekel stronger than ever.

But tourism is not just about dollars and cents. It is about connection and continuity. It is about exposing visitors to the vitality, dynamism, holiness and history of Israel so that at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are at their highest level, the country has positive ambassadors.

Most of the people stuck at their gates on Sunday evening finally boarded their planes. But it is almost certain that it will not be the last fiasco.

At some point, there will likely be a breaking point.

Israel is supposed to be the homeland of all the Jewish people. Perhaps it is time for the government to roll out the welcome mat.

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