Ex-US diplomat trying to repatriate suffers pitfalls of Israeli bureaucracy

Avraham Rabby prevented from leaving Israel by bureaucratic hurdle requiring returning Israelis to stay for set period to receive health insurance.

rabby 88  (photo credit: )
rabby 88
(photo credit: )
Israeli-born Avraham Rabby, who retired from the US State Department's diplomatic service earlier this year and moved back to Israel in September, is not sure if he'll be able to attend the official ceremony marking his retirement, set to take place in Washington next month in the presence of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While Rabby, who spent his formative years in England and his adulthood in the US, is legally blind, it is not his disability that is preventing him from leaving Israel, but rather a bureaucratic hurdle that requires returning Israelis to stay here for a set period in order to receive health insurance. "It was only after my fourth visit to the National Insurance Institute last week that I found out about this requirement," Rabby, who was touted by the New York Times as the US's first blind diplomat, told The Jerusalem Post this week. "I was told that for my health insurance to start, I had to be in the country for a minimum of 183 days without leaving." If Rabby leaves in December, he runs the risk of having to start the count from the beginning again. "Every time I go to the office, they say that I don't have the correct forms," he continued. "At first, it was a letter proving that I'm officially renting an apartment here; then I had to show the receipt of my shipment [from overseas, to prove an extended stay], and now this." Rabby said he was bitterly disappointed by the number of bureaucratic roadblocks he had encountered "as I attempt to reintegrate myself into Israeli society." Born in Tel Aviv in 1942, Rabby lost his sight at the age of eight due to detached retinas and was sent by his parents to a special boarding school for blind children in England. After graduating from Oxford University with a degree in French and Spanish, he moved to the US in 1967, where he eventually became a citizen and started working for the country's diplomatic core. His most recent position was as chief of the political section at the American Embassy in Trinidad. Following his retirement in June, Rabby decided that he wanted to move to Israel to be near his relatives - his brother and his brother's family - in Tel Aviv. "The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has been great," said Rabby. "However, there seems to be little coordination between it and the other government offices." According to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Rabby is listed as a returning minor, and while he is not forced to pay an enormous fine to receive health insurance like most other returning Israelis - in some cases, more than NIS 10,000 - he is expected to wait four months before his rights kick in, because of his advanced age. "He has to be here for 183 days before his health insurance can begin," confirmed Daniel Elkayam, director of the Department for Insurance and Health Insurance at the NII. "We have to be sure that this person is seriously planning to stay here." Elkayam said, however, that any medical expenses incurred during the waiting period could be reimbursed at a later date if the case were presented to a special Health Ministry committee. He also stated that Rabby could, in theory, show his return flight ticket as proof that he was planning to come back to Israel after his trip to Washington next month. Officials at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry are aware of some of the bureaucratic problems returning Israelis encounter, especially the large sums that have to be paid in order to receive health insurance. However, ministry spokeswoman Meital Noy told the Post that a campaign to bring former Israelis home was set to kick off within the next month. She said that one of the main changes was that the ministry would now cover the health insurance fine for returning Israelis. Israelis would still have to pay the fine, but they would be reimbursed by the ministry, she explained. "We cannot force other ministries to behave in a certain way," Noy pointed out. "However, we have successfully enlisted the help of other offices, including the NII, to make sure this new drive [to bring ex-Israelis back] is smooth and successful." As for erasing the health insurance waiting period, Noy said that attempts to modify such a demand had so far failed, but that efforts were still afoot to change the existing Health Insurance Law. While the new process for returning Israelis will, according to Noy, benefit more than 100,000 expats, the changes come too late for Rabby. "I have lived in many different countries as part of my work for the [US] State Department and never, ever had a problem getting insurance," asserted Rabby, showing surprise that he had not been told about the possibility of presenting his return flight ticket. "And it is only now, when I get back to my home country, that I can't get health insurance."