Entry ban on Diaspora Jews ‘moral disgrace’ says South African chief rabbi

Goldstein made his remarks as Israel is set to add more countries to its red list.

South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. (photo credit: Courtesy)
South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Chief Rabbi of South Africa Dr. Warren Goldstein has branded Israel’s border closure to foreign Jews “a moral disgrace” and said that country must reverse the ban or risk long-term damage to the country’s relationship with Diaspora Jews. 

The rabbi said Israel’s draconian entry regulations were dividing families and undermining the very reason for the state’s existence, to be a state for the Jewish people.

Goldstein made his remarks as Israel is set to add more countries to its red list, including the US with the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel, making it almost impossible for foreign nationals from the countries to visit the Jewish state, or for Israelis to visit them. 

Many immigrants in Israel have grown increasingly frustrated with the tight entry regulations for foreign nationals that have restricted the ability of their relatives to visit the country, while Israelis have been able to freely visit countries, not on the red list.

Poor implementation of the exceptions for the entry ban that do exist and the hostile treatment of some incoming foreign nationals by Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority have caused further problems.

Jewish Diaspora women arriving in Israel (credit: MOMENTUM)Jewish Diaspora women arriving in Israel (credit: MOMENTUM)

“The Israeli travel ban is doing serious damage to relations between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” said Goldstein.

“It’s casing terrible human suffering, it’s dividing families, people can’t come for family celebrations or to just their relatives,” continued the rabbi.

He said the “heartlessness of these policies” was demonstrated when friends of the family of Eli Kay, who was slain in a terrorist attack last month, came from South Africa to support the family and were barred from entry to the country after the entry regulations changed while they were in the air en route, and were forced to violate Shabbat when the Population Authority forcibly boarded them on plane out of the country on Friday afternoon.

Goldstein, together with other senior rabbis in South Africa, sent a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett strongly objecting to the incident, but says he did not receive a reply.

The rabbi said the government must not jeopardize the health of its citizens, but that it has to apply the same rules to Israeli passport-holders as other Jews.

“By doing what it is doing the government is saying, ‘You are not part of us, we are not part of you, and our borders are locked to you,’” said Goldstein.

“Its a moral disgrace, and cannot be defended on grounds of medical safety. The future sustainability and success of Israel depend on if it fulfills the reason for its existence. That is to be a Jewish state. If you violate the Jewish identity of the Jewish state, if you take away its reason for being, that is a strategic threat to the State of Israel.”

Added the rabbi, “They have no moral or spiritual right to deny Jews entry into the Land of Israel.”Goldstein said some in his community who are “proud Zionists” feel “totally alienated by the actions of the Israeli government,” and that the persistent entry bans for Diaspora Jews were damaging the relationship between the Jewish state and its brethren abroad.

“You can’t have a situation in which Israelis have all the privileges, Diaspora Jews have nothing, and then afterwards go back to normal as if nothing happened,” said the rabbi.

He noted that Bennett recently wrote to the Jewish Federations of North America saying he “deeply regrets” the pain caused to Diaspora Jews by the travel bans, but said that regret requires change, and that the government is still yet to change its policies as a reflection of its regret.

“The consequences, if nothing is changed, will start to emerge over the coming months and years, because the relationship has been changed. You can’t fundamentally change the relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora and then expect everything will proceed as usual.”