Jewish Enough for Birthright — But Not for Israel

Kafkaesque Dilemmas Bedevil Would-Be Immigrants

TAGLIT-BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL

By Judy Maltz

Published January 23, 2014.
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Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told Haaretz the new policy, initiated by the former minister, Eli Yishai, aimed to entice young Jews to stay in Israel by making it easier for them to study and work here. “But for this privilege, there needs to be proof that they’re Jewish,” she says.

Before the new policy took effect, she notes, there were no specific regulations for handling work and student visa requests from Jews visiting from abroad.

According to other sources familiar with the subject, before 2012, requests for visa extensions and status changes from Jews were usually approved with a wink without any requirements for proof of Jewish lineage.

The Israeli government spends about $35 million a year on bringing young Jewish adults to Israel on Taglit-Birthright’s free 10-day-trips. Private philanthropists, Jewish federations and other organizations contribute about twice that amount combined.

Since Taglit-Birthright doesn’t accept candidates who have visited Israel before, its participants often come from nonaffiliated homes, many of them the products of mixed marriages. Among members of this group who choose to return to Israel after they have been on Birthright, the new policy is a major obstacle.

The government and Jewish Agency also subsidize Masa, and according to Avi Rubel, a senior director at the organization, about one-third of the 2,700 participants in its programs each year end up staying in Israel, where they inevitably begin looking for work.

Although Masa participants receive a special visa when they come to Israel, for which they are required to sign a document declaring that they are Jewish, the Israeli authorities usually don’t request evidence to substantiate this claim. This explains why participants like A. could be accepted to Masa but have their Jewish credentials challenged later on.

The Jewish Agency issued the following statement to Haaretz: “We attribute great importance to bringing young people from the Diaspora to Israel on a wide range of experiential programs and see this as a tool for strengthening their Jewish identity and for deepening their connection to the State of Israel. When these young people inquire into the possibility of obtaining permanent status in Israel, after participating in one of these programs, it is incumbent on them to approach the relevant offices that deal with these matters in Israel.”


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