Skip To Content
Fast Forward

160 U.S. Birthright participants arrive in Israel day before travel ban goes into effect

This article originally appeared on Haaretz and was reprinted here with permission.

With little more than a day to go before American tourists are officially barred from entering Israel, 160 participants in Birthright’s free 10-day trips landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday.

The program received a special exemption from the previous overall ban on incoming tourism imposed several weeks ago when the omicron variant was identified. But now that Israel has included the United States in its list of so-called “red countries,” there will be no special exemptions for Americans.

Israel’s cabinet expanded the list of “red countries” on Monday to include the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Turkey and Switzerland. The ban will take effect on Tuesday at midnight.

A total of nine Birthright groups took off from New York on Sunday and landed in Israel on Monday. They will be the last Birthright participants allowed into the country until further notice.

Like Israelis returning from travel abroad, all Birthright participants are required to spend three days in quarantine. Most Birthright trips last 10 days, but the program directors agreed to allow participants to spend a few extra days in the country to compensate them for the quarantine requirement.

The decision to exempt Birthright and other Jewish travel programs from the overall ban on incoming tourism was made by Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. It sparked outrage in the local Christian community as pilgrim groups planning to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land were denied entry.

According to a spokesman for Birthright, 6,500 Americans and Canadians had registered for Birthright trips scheduled for this winter season. Following the spread of the omicron variant, many cancelled their registration.

The last Birthright groups to arrive in Israel before Monday flew in from South America at the end of November. Between May and August, when Israel had its borders open to organized tour groups, more than 4,600 young Jewish adults visited Israel on Birthright trips.

Before the coronavirus struck, Birthright typically brought about 40,000 participants on its trips to Israel every year.

This article originally appeared on Haaretz and was reprinted here with permission.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.