Diaspora Jews’ misplaced anger at Israel’s no-entry policy - opinion

Viruses don’t engage in discrimination. No, it’s politicians who do that.

  Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 22, 2021.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

With all due respect to the sensibilities of Jews abroad, taking offense at the Israeli government’s ban on entry into the country is just as ridiculous as the border closure itself. Ditto for Israelis prevented from traveling to several world destinations, especially the United States and Canada, where many have immediate family members.

Rather than complaining about the so-called rift that this chaos is causing between the Diaspora and Jewish state, everyone – other than those who actually believe that locking people in and out is a justified health measure – should be decrying the policy as a whole.

Think about it: If COVID-19 is the issue here, and no amount of social distancing, mask-wearing and PCR tests before or after flying from one place to another can protect against the spread of the pandemic, then no exceptions should be made for anyone under any circumstances.

Viruses don’t engage in discrimination. Nor do they hold committees to determine whether a wedding, birth of a grandchild, funeral or visit by a high-ranking Washington official constitutes grounds for exemption from infection.

No, it’s politicians who do that.

THE KNESSET building in Jerusalem holds one of the world’s smallest legislatures. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)THE KNESSET building in Jerusalem holds one of the world’s smallest legislatures. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

To avoid acknowledging that they’ve been crossing lines where curbing civil liberties is concerned, they point to recommendations by health authorities. Never mind that not all medical professionals, even some of the ones participating in endless meetings about regulations, have uniform opinions. When it comes to determining the fate of our lives and livelihoods, however, the majority rules – the majority within the coronavirus cabinet, that is.

Even this might be acceptable to some extent if logic and consistency were prevailing. Instead, the directives shift every five minutes, and they’re not based on data, which in any case is dubious, but on which interest group is able to make its voice heard and feared at any given moment.

IT IS thus that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, with the consent of the Health Ministry, succumbed to pressure from pregnant Israelis whose parents are foreign nationals and agreed to allow them to enter the country a week before their daughters’ due date. The exception doesn’t apply to prospective paternal grandparents, though.

Also, due to complaints, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted to enable dual citizens who work abroad or have close relatives in a “red” country – with a reportedly high infection rate and therefore on the government’s no-fly list – to travel there anyway.

Did scientists reach the conclusion that the Omicron variant, which spurred the latest hysteria, will comply with Israeli guidelines? If so, they have more faith in the microbe than in the general public, which can barely keep up with the cockamamie instructions.

And it’s no wonder, since not only are the details of what is permitted and forbidden – in red, yellow and green areas, not to mention “Purple Ribbon” limitations and Green Pass requirements at malls – constantly shifting. Imagine trying to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture with footnotes at the bottom of the already incomprehensible directions and microscopic drawings of different-sized screws. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating.

Even people intent on adhering to the letter of the COVID laws – whether out of genuine trepidation in the face of potential illness or due to a tendency towards obedience – get confused. Others simply don’t bother learning them and hope not to get fined for violations. The latter group can’t totally get away with this, of course, particularly if they have young children who need to produce negative antigen tests in order to go to school.

ISRAEL IS by no means alone in its ongoing battle against COVID in general and Omicron specifically. The entire globe is so preoccupied, if not obsessed, with the virus and its mutations that all other diseases are given short shrift. Indeed, news of any death is greeted by a question of whether it was caused by corona.

Like the rest of the world’s population, Diaspora Jews have been living with this warped reality for the better part of two years. That they’re more than mildly disgruntled is not only understandable; it’s completely justified.

But why are they taking it personally? And why are members of the very government that closed the border to tourists bemoaning that the move is endangering relations with external Jewish communities?

Take Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, for example, who on Tuesday warned that “we are approaching a crisis point in Israel-Diaspora relations. We have the means to maintain the public’s health even without closing the country’s borders to world Jews. It is time to also consider the overall damage that may be caused to our relationship with Diaspora Jewry.”

His remarks came on the heels of an outcry from Jewish leaders. One such figure is World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel, who announced testily that “many Jews have family and property in Israel, and they cannot visit the country just because they have a foreign passport.”

Uh, yes, their having a foreign passport makes them tourists, not citizens, no matter how connected they are to Israel by blood, sweat, tears, property or Zionism. What they do have is the automatic right to return to their homeland – to make aliyah – something that 27,050 Jews did this year.

This is not to say that all Jews need to immigrate to Israel or keep their mouths shut about the state’s coronavirus policies. On the contrary, I’d be happy for more Jews of all stripes to loudly protest arbitrary, inconsistent COVID rules, wherever they’re imposed.

Anyone who has managed to travel to Ben-Gurion Airport during different waves of the pandemic can observe the contradictions. Though every incoming passenger presents a negative PCR test prior to boarding, and is forced to wear a mask throughout the trip, each must take another test upon arrival, and then self-isolate until receiving a negative result, usually several hours to a day later.

Meanwhile, all stand in crowded lines leading to the testing booths, and huddle like sardines to wait for taxis or other means of transportation. Those required to quarantine for a week have to go out in public at the end of the seven days to have yet another Q-Tip shoved up their noses, then return to isolation until freed by a negative result.

That this means frequenting a typically brimming testing venue doesn’t seem to strike the decision-makers as defeating their own purported purposes.

CLEARLY, NEITHER the rules nor the loopholes are responsible for the transmission of the Omicron variant, which is spreading like a wildfire, including among the thrice-vaccinated. Pitifully, the fact that it’s manifesting mainly as a version of the common cold is being obfuscated by politicians and the health experts on whom they rely. It is this travesty that anybody wishing to enter and exit Israel should be criticizing.

The point is that Diaspora Jews have no business feeling slighted by a policy that’s equally intolerable to Israeli citizens. Their ties to the country are as irrelevant in this case as the bulk of the methods employed to curb infection.

The government, therefore, doesn’t owe them apologies or exemptions. It must simply reopen the skies to everybody, and the sooner the better.