Analysis: Door to Israel left too wide open?

Katzrin murder case highlights the dilemmas of background checks for olim.

As police continued to question 29-year-old Roman Zadarov Thursday on suspicion of murdering schoolgirl Tair Rada in Katzrin, the case has highlighted the question of whether the State of Israel needs to look more closely - from both a criminal and psychological perspective - at the background of new or potential immigrants. Zadarov had no criminal record in Israel or the Ukraine, although there were reports of a history of violence before he came to Israel. "Any person who is a Jew is entitled to make aliya," Dorron Kline, deputy director of the South African Zionist organization Telfed and a former Jewish Agency for Israel aliya shaliah (emissary) in South Africa between 2000-02, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "When a candidate comes to us asking to make aliya, we do an in-depth interview and we assess their background and their character. But it is left to the shaliah's discretion to ask for documents such as a police report." Kline said that during his time in South Africa, he did not know of any official checks or requirements for those with criminal records or a history of violence to declare episodes from their past. A person determined to hide crimes or unsociable behavior from the authorities was most likely able to do so, said Kline. But a spokeswoman for the Immigrants Liaison Bureau, which authorizes immigration from the former Soviet Union, said potential aliya candidates were asked about their criminal record. "If it turns out that a person lies or withholds information, then their application for aliya could be cancelled or citizen revoked," she wrote in an official statement. And Sabene Haddad, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry's population registry, said that under the Law of Return, immigrants were required to declare any criminal activity in the past. She said that many individuals had been denied citizenship on the basis of a clause in the law that a person who is "engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people; or is likely to endanger public health or the security of the State," could be denied entry. Haddad pointed out that Zadarov had in fact entered the country on a tourist visa, married an Israeli and then applied for citizenship. In cases such as this, she said, a criminal background check is only done for the years the person has lived here. Both Haddad and Kline admitted that checking the background of people who apply for citizenship once they are already living in Israel is extremely difficult. "Many people that have a background in criminal activities arrive here as tourists," said Haddad, adding that when they showed up at the Interior Ministry, the ministry did not always check details from their former country of residence. Checking or assessing whether a potential immigrant has psychological problems or a violent past is equally difficult, except through the interviews conducted by shlihim or consular representatives in the applicant's countries of origin. Haddad said that the onus was on those who facilitate aliya out in the field to check into the backgrounds of new immigrants. "The Jewish Agency does most of the checking and the Interior Ministry relies on the Jewish Agency," pointed out Kline. "That is why a shaliah is so important in this process." He added that while shlihim can never refuse a Jew the chance to make aliya, the Agency's emissaries can make the process more difficult if they feel a candidate is not suitable based on a criminal past or knowledge that they may cause problems in their new homeland. "We can refuse to give them assistance or just make things complicated for them, like not offering them a place to live in an absorption center or denying them the free plane ticket," he said. "Usually if the Jewish Agency puts stumbling blocks in these people's paths then they just give up." Even if criminal and psychological information is actually recorded, there is no official way for it to be passed on to the relevant authorities - the police and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Kline said if a shaliah knew an immigrant had a serious criminal record, he could send a warning ahead of time to the authorities in Israel. Haddad said that the Interior Ministry's computer system is linked directly to the police, so information is automatically accessible by both bodies. However, in many cases, such information is not passed on to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, which is responsible for the immigrants once they are here. "As soon as we know about an individual's problem we can help them," said a spokeswoman for the ministry. "We have the tools and the contacts within the local authorities. But if we don't know, we can't help." She continued: "If someone has a problematic background in their mother country, the organizations responsible for facilitating their aliya should be passing the information on to us." "Israel has been attacked many times for having such an open law [the Law of Return]," said a Jewish Agency spokesman. "But this is what makes that law so unique."