Diaspora Minister: COVID Travel Ban Could Trigger Crisis in Israel-Diaspora Relations

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends a committee meeting at the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor) on Tuesday warned that a crisis was looming over Israel’s relations with the Jewish communities abroad over the government’s prolonged policy of shuttering all air traffic as part of the measures taken to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay.

Director-General of the Population and Immigration Authority Tomer Moskowitz told the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday that the state was delaying pursuing a process that would allow Diaspora Jews to visit Israel during the pandemic over the highly sensitive political and legal aspects involved in such a permit.

He stressed that the matter was under constant review, the next one due in two weeks.

Shai and Moskowitz’s statements followed criticism by Jewish groups worldwide calling Israel to allow Jews who are not Israeli nationals to visit the country regardless of the Omicron wave now racing across the globe.

Shai called on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to resolve the issue, warning, “We are approaching a crisis point in Israel-Diaspora relations. We have the means to maintain the public’s health even without closing the country’s borders to world Jews. It is time to also consider the overall damage that may be caused to our relationship with Diaspora Jewry.”

In a recent conversation with the heads of the Jewish federations in the United States, Bennett said he would find a solution to the issue.

Jewish leaders from across the American political spectrum told Yisrael Hayom that the state must find an arrangement that would reflect the fact that Israel is the Jewish state, and allow them to visit the country even when the skies are closed due to the global pandemic.

Government officials, however, said that it was because of the sensitive nature of this issue that it was best left to play itself out.

“In two or three weeks it will be clear whether we’re going to reopen the sky or pursue measures for a longer term,” a senior official said.

“If we return to a state of open skies, as it was before the Omicron outbreak, it will resolve the issue for everyone, including Diaspora Jews. If not, we will have to look for an equal solution for everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike,” he explained.

“If it is not necessary to do so, it is better not to get into a situation where the Nation-State Law and the Law of Return are up for public discussion and scrutiny by the High Court,” he added. “No one knows what the results of such a debate will be, and it is better to think ahead.”

Meanwhile, the World Zionist Organization on Tuesday announced it would lobby to enact an “open sky” policy of Diaspora Jews despite the travel restrictions imposed by the government, citing the damage the travel ban is inflicting on Israel’s ties to world Jewry.

WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel said, “Many Jews have family and property in Israel and they cannot visit the country just because they have a foreign passport.”

He called on the government to adopt WZO’s plan to open the skies for Diaspora Jews whose connection to Israel is clear.

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