Israeli ‘e-residents'

Estonia allows people living outside the country to get “e-residency.”

By LAWRENCE J. EPSTEIN
June 23, 2015 21:34
3 minute read.
Hadassah college

Students at Hadassah college. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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On June 10, Diane Rehm had Bernie Sanders as a guest on her radio show. At one point, she told him “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.” Sanders indignantly denied the assertion, which had evidently been made based on a list on Facebook of US Jewish leaders who were purportedly also citizens of Israel. The opponent of Israel who created that list was under the mistaken impression that if someone is Jewish that person is automatically a citizen of Israel or that citizenship is conferred on any Jewish traveler to the country.

The classic anti-Semitic charge of dual loyalty lurked below a discussion of the subject.

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There was another story in the news at the same time, one that received much less prominence. Estonia (which is so proud of its congeniality with the digital age that it likes to refer to itself as “E-stonia”) allowed people living outside the country to get “e-residency.”

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And these two stories lead to an idea: Israel should offer e-residency (or, less formally, honorary e-residency) to Jews living outside the country. E-residency, or virtual residency, means that non-residents of Israel can acquire a digital identity offered by Israel declaring that while they are not physical residents of the land, they reside in Israel by means of a virtual connection.

Such e-residency would have many advantages. It would strengthen the ties between the new e-residents and Israel. It would provide an incentive to acquire knowledge of the country such as by reading Israel newspapers, to learn or become more proficient in Hebrew, to seek out other e-residents for mutual action on behalf of Israel, to travel to Israel, to explore aliya as an option, to feel prouder about being Jewish, to have a deeper emotional connection to the Jewish homeland, to speak to others about Israel and the experience of being an e-resident and much else. Especially for younger people such as college students, becoming an e-resident while retaining American citizenship would provide a clear identity as a supporter of Israel and, as such, a barrier against assimilation.

Stories about such an effort would provide Israel with a new source of publicity. For example, imagine new e-residents who live on college campuses writing about the experience for their college newspaper.

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Israel should create a pilot e-residency program to test out this idea.

A widespread discussion of the idea followed by evaluating its legal, public relations, diplomatic and other consequences should be undertaken. The specific legal status of e-residents, the basis of accepting or rejecting e-resident applicants, and the precise benefits for such e-residents need to be fully explored.

Once planning for implementation begins, there should be a convenient and quick online application form and a clear statement of benefits.

Of course, new e-residents, such as American citizens, wouldn’t have to pay Israeli taxes or serve in the Israeli military. But these e-residents could, for instance, get a printed certificate declaring their new status, an information packet about Israel, updates about Israel, suggestions for political and economic action, information about potential aliya to Israel, a voucher for e-banking in Israel and one for travel to Israel, and so on.

Will such an effort engender charges of dual loyalty? No doubt it would among those strongly opposed to the very existence of Israel. But, especially if the rights and obligations of Israel e-residency are carefully laid out by Israeli legal authorities, there will be no legitimate basis for such a charge.

And the benefits of e-residency are potentially so large that, combined with the very minor accompanying howls from the normal people who jeer at Israel, the effort is worthwhile.

The author is currently writing a book for Rowman & Littlefield on the First Zionist Congress.

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