COVID-19: Shai asks PM for committee to let Diaspora Jews enter Israel

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai also proposed creating a public diplomacy unit devoted to maintaining relations with Diaspora Jewry.

DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai wrote to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asking him to establish a special inter-ministerial team to advise the government on entry policy for Diaspora Jews.

“For the first time in history, Israel has closed its doors repeatedly to the Jewish people time and again, without taking into account the consequences of Israeli policy on the fabric of relations, on our future,” Shai wrote in a letter to Bennett. “The voice of our sisters and brothers, Diaspora Jews, must be taken into account and be heard in the government. This is my personal and ethical obligation, the mandate I was entrusted with.”

Israeli borders have been closed to foreign nationals almost continuously since the beginning of the pandemic, with very limited exceptions.

At the beginning of November, the country reopened – at least to those who met the stringent criteria to be considered vaccinated according to the Health Ministry – but the decision was reversed less than a month later, as a measure to fight the new Omicron variant.

This left many in a worse situation than they had been in previous months since the system that allowed first-degree relatives of Israelis to obtain permission to come visit – which operated from May to October – was not reinstated.

 TRAVELERS WALK through Ben-Gurion Airport earlier this year.  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) TRAVELERS WALK through Ben-Gurion Airport earlier this year. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

In the past month, Israel also placed dozens of countries under a travel ban, preventing Israelis from traveling them without special permission. The list includes the US, the UK, Canada and France, home to some of the largest Jewish communities in the world.

Shai said thousands of people had reached out to him asking for help.

He asked Bennett to set an inter-ministerial team that would include representatives of all the relevant ministries, including the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. The committee would meet regularly in times when Israeli borders are closed to monitor the situation and make policy recommendations, including on how to allow the entry of individuals or groups.

“The State of Israel is a home, from which responsibility for Jews around the world is derived,” the minister wrote.

“Coronavirus has been with us for two years and will, unfortunately, continue to accompany us in the coming years as well,” he further said, suggesting that in light of this reality, solutions need to be found.

Shai also proposed creating a public diplomacy unit devoted to maintaining relations with Diaspora Jewry.

“I call on us to find a framework which will allow us to lower the bridge, to connect, not because we need to but because they are an inseparable part of us because we are one people,” he said.