Photo Credit: Yaffa Phillips
Weizmann Residence Display – Israeli passport number 1, issued to President Chaim Weizmann.

In December 2020, then-Interior Minister Aryeh Deri instructed the director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor Yosef, to grant new olim who have not settled in Israel a passport for only one year. With that, Deri technically repealed a law passed by Avigdor Liberman and Yisrael Beiteinu four years earlier, which opened a wide loophole through which tens of thousands of people, most of them from the former Soviet Union, to receive an Israeli passport without immigrating to Israel.

The phenomenon is known as Passport Aliyah: Jews who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, but do not intend to stay, enjoy the beaches, seek employment, pay taxes and send their kids to the army. All they want instead is Israeli citizenship, a passport, and a quick getaway to Europe and North America.

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For many years, Israel had the policy to grant new olim only a travel document, and issue them an Israeli passport only a year later, after they have settled down in Israel. The idea behind this policy was to prevent issuing Israeli passports to individuals who were not interested in the State of Israel but wanted the passport for business or criminal ends.

In early 2017, despite warnings from civil service professionals, the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset faction, identified since its establishment in 1999 with the Russian aliyah, pushed an amendment that would make it possible to obtain an Israeli passport upon arrival in Israel. The results confirmed the professionals’ worst fears. It soon became clear that a high percentage of olim from the former USSR in general, and Russia in particular, were taking advantage of the amended legislation, and arrived in droves in Israel to obtain a blue and white passport, and disappear.

A Ma’ariv investigation in late 2020 showed that about 40% of the olim from the former USSR in the years 2018-2019 left shortly after their arrival (חשיפה: באדיבות”ישראל ביתנו, לא צריך להיות ישראלי כדי להחזיק בדרכון כחול לבן). Many of them did the turnabout in less than a month. Among Russian immigrants, it turned out, the numbers were even worse: more than half of them who arrived after the law had been amended left Israel shortly after arriving, and took their passports with them.

According to a recent article in Ha’aretz (You Want an Israeli Passport? Then Prove You’re Staying for Good), since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, Passport Aliyah has begun to encompass Jews from Western countries, most notably the United States and France, who have begun the aliyah process not because they wish to settle down in Israel, but because an Israeli passport would make it easier to go in and out of the country to visit family and friends despite the virus-related lockdowns.

Tomer Moskowitz, the new director of the Population and Immigration Authority, told Ha’aretz that soon everyone applying to make aliyah would have to sign a commitment to living in Israel permanently should they be approved. To determine if they are serious about making the move to Israel, applicants will be asked, did they sell their homes and cars? What are their children’s school plans? Did they quit their jobs? Have they hired a container to ship their belongings to Israel? Do they have a place to live in Israel? Did they register their children in a school in Israel? Do they have a job in Israel? Have they opened an Israeli bank account? Of course, every single answer must be accompanied by proper documentation.

Aliyah applicants will have to sign a declaration on a three-page form, available in English, Russian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, in front of an Israeli consular representative: “I the undersigned, after being warned that I must tell the truth and that if I do not do so, I shall be subject to punishment set by statute, hereby declare that I requested to receive ‘immigrant’ status in Israel in order to settle in Israel immediately and permanently and to make Israel the center of my life. I also hereby declare that all the information and details I have provided in my application are complete and correct.”

“We will use this new form to see that people really intend to settle in Israel,” Moskowitz told Ha’aretz.

Perhaps the Population and Immigration Authority should also establish a well-guarded island off the coast of Tel Aviv, where prospective olim would spend a prescribed intermediary period proving their eligibility. I hear the name Ellis Island is available.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.