Olim threaten to go to High Court over US travel ban

The Yad L'Olim organization sent a letter to the PM and A-G demanding to find a solution for thousands of olim who work and have close family in the US.

 Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on September 6, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Yad L’Olim organization has sent a warning letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and other government officials demanding immediate approval of immigrants’ travel plans to the US to maintain their jobs and visit family.

The NGO, led by former MK Dov Lipman and represented by lawyer Aviad Hacohen, has given the government until Sunday to arrive at a solution to the logjam blocking olim from flying, which could lead to hundreds of new immigrants losing their US-based jobs and cost family members their last chances to visit dying relatives.

With the fifth wave of corona leading to new restrictions on flying to the US and much of the world, even dual US-Israeli citizens are now facing obstacles to travel to America.

According to Lipman, there are hundreds or even thousands of olim who are trying to get to the US to maintain their livelihood, to get married, or to attend to other critical family issues.

However, unlike some of the previous flying restrictions – when dual US-Israeli citizens could fly but faced quarantine upon their return to Israel – many immigrants including those with critical issues are getting rejected from a special approvals committee that is supposed to handle the issue.

Olim arriving in Israel (credit: DAVID SALEM-ZOOG PRODUCTIONS)Olim arriving in Israel (credit: DAVID SALEM-ZOOG PRODUCTIONS)

Lipman noted that earlier this week, government official Amos Shmueli told the Knesset there were 4,500 requests pending for special approval to travel, but that he had only 10 staff members working on the issue.

Despite the insufficient staffing, Shmueli was promising – a futile promise, according to Lipman – to provide responses within 24 hours.

The former MK said almost all requests are getting rejected outright or for missing documents, even where it is clear that all documents were submitted, and that the document reviewers simply did not have sufficient time to perform an accurate and prompt review.

Others who are stuck because of the current flying restrictions include lone soldiers and people who reside in the US but happened to get stuck in Israel at the wrong time this past week while visiting Israeli relatives.

There are concerns that the state could claim a shortage of flights, but even that issue could be chalked up to the state’s own policy reducing the number of flights that airlines are offering.