Elazar Stern: We must create special status for visiting Jews

Intelligence Minister says entry must be made easier to reflect Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

 MK Elazar Stern attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 1, 2017 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK Elazar Stern attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 1, 2017
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern said the government should institute a special status for Jewish foreign nationals who wish to visit Israel, in light of the severe restrictions on entry into Israel for all foreigners due to the ongoing corona pandemic.

Stern lamented that many Jewish youths in the Diaspora have been unable to come to Israel on organized trips due to the corona crisis, as well as the difficulties olim have had to see their close family members during the two-year pandemic.

For long periods of the global health crisis, Israel has enacted extremely tight restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals that have impacted the ability of foreign Jews to visit the Jewish state, whether in organizational frameworks representing Diaspora Jews or on a personal level for the myriad Jews abroad with close relatives in Israel.

“We need to act and to emphasize that we need to give the right to come to Israel to Israeli citizens, foreigners, and also to the Jewish world,” Stern said on Monday. “There should be an extra definition [status category], which falls between that of an Israeli citizen and that of a foreigner.”

The minister said Jewish visitors could be given special status through organizational frameworks such as those on Birthright trips or other Israel-experience programs, and for those on delegations with Jewish representative organizations and philanthropic groups.

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, October 17, 2021. (credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, October 17, 2021. (credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)

“There are youths in the Diaspora who have not been able to ever visit Israel because their school trips, or their gap year, didn’t happen when they were supposed to,” said Stern. “This is a massive gap we’re creating in the Jewish people, and it will be difficult to restore this sense of connection to the State of Israel, so we have to get to grips with this because this won’t be the last pandemic or variant of concern. We cannot disconnect Jewish youth, Jewish students and Jewish-identity trips from the Jewish national home for so long.”

Regarding the difficulties immigrants are facing to have their families visit during the pandemic, Stern said the government has improved its treatment of this issue, but acknowledged that immigrants have suffered as a result of government policies.

“It can’t be that a country that encourages aliyah does not take into consideration in its entry regulations the concept that the State of Israel has hundreds of thousands of olim,” said Stern. “Families are being disconnected because of this.”

The minister said he raised the idea of a special status for Jewish organizations and relatives of Israelis during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, although any concrete action does not appear to be in the offing.

Stern also conceded that there would be legal problems with giving Jews preferential status for entry into Israel based on their religious or ethnic identity, saying that for this reason he advocated affording this special status to Jewish organizations and those with relatives in the country.

“There has to be a [category] definition for the Jewish people in the Jewish national home, in a country that encourages aliyah. There must be an expression of everything connected to the fact that this is the national home of the Jewish people.”