Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) addressed the issue of restrictions on tourists that have been in place for much of the pandemic at the regular cabinet meeting on Sunday. He explained his suggested reforms in an interview with Jerusalem Post.
Minster suggests new classification for Jewish tourists
Perhaps the most revolutionary suggestion by Stern called for special classification to be added for visas granted to Jews for coming to visit Israel as tourists.
“We need to act and to emphasize that we need to give the right to come to Israel to Israeli citizens, foreigners, and also to the Jewish world,” Stern said on Monday. “There should be an extra definition [status category], which falls between that of an Israeli citizen and that of a foreigner.”
Non-Israeli citizens are not currently approved to enter the country and this has been the case sporadically throughout much of the pandemic. The travel ban is in place until at least December 13.
Stern noted the imperative to open the gates to young Jews visiting Israel, some for the first time.
“There are youths in the Diaspora who have not been able to ever visit Israel because their school trips, or their gap year, didn’t happen when they were supposed to,” said Stern. “This is a massive gap we’re creating in the Jewish people, and it will be difficult to restore this sense of connection to the State of Israel, so we have to get to grips with this because this won’t be the last pandemic or variant of concern. We cannot disconnect Jewish youth, Jewish students and Jewish-identity trips from the Jewish national home for so long.”
He also noted the importance of visits by relatives of new immigrants to Israel.
“It can’t be that a country that encourages aliyah does not take into consideration in its entry regulations the concept that the State of Israel has hundreds of thousands of olim,” said Stern. “Families are being disconnected because of this.”
“There has to be a [category] definition for the Jewish people in the Jewish national home, in a country that encourages aliyah. There must be an expression of everything connected to the fact that this is the national home of the Jewish people.”
There is currently no special status for Jewish tourists who wish to visit Israel. The Law of Return does take Jewish status into consideration, granting the right of any Jew to acquire citizenship.
Rabbi: “Pandemic will not last forever”
Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a former MK for Shas and an expert in conversion to Judaism, did not think a new classification for Jewish tourists was necessary.
“Of course, Jews returning to live in the Promised Land is a manifestation of the Ingathering of the Exiles, but it is not so clear that tourism is part of that,” Rabbi Amsalem said. “And having a different classification for Jewish tourists could generate accusations of racism.”
“The pandemic will not last forever,” he said. “For now, traveling, for Jews and non-Jews all around the world, are not traveling.”
The rabbi noted that there are many more issues pertaining to the aliyah of Jews.
“We should put our efforts into bringing Jews back to Israel and improving the conversion process, which is part of that.”