Israel must open the skies to Diaspora Jewry - opinion

The government must ensure that the gates of our homeland remain open to Jews seeking to visit Israel or explore the possibility of making aliyah.

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)

For nearly two years, the world has been combating a stubborn virus that has changed and disrupted our lives. The severe damage to health, business, tourism, educational institutions, family unity and the elderly is evident and the global attempt to deal with this new reality is intensifying.

The effects of the virus are evident in the Jewish communities around the world. In addition to their health concerns, the communities are facing an unprecedented economic crisis that has resulted in the closure of Jewish schools, the collapse of community institutions and damage to the centrality of the synagogue which has been adapting to the alarming reality of a new generation lacking Jewish and Zionist education and identity.

From time immemorial, Diaspora Jewry has played a key role in Israel’s growth and development. In times of crisis, prosperity, war, terrorist attacks and diplomatic challenges, Diaspora Jewry has always stood by Israel. Support for events and military operations, solidarity delegations and philanthropy are only a sample of the ongoing efforts of the global Jewish community to sustain and reinforce the state.

Since the pandemic and its multiple waves entered our lives, the government has implemented numerous public health protection and prevention measures, including a policy that bans the entry of visitors who do not hold Israeli citizenship. To its credit, even at the peaks of the virus outbreak, the Israeli government has helped olim come to Israel while adhering to guidelines, recommendations, and procedures. However, a continuation of strict regulations and severe limitations may result in undermining the unique connection between Diaspora Jewry and Israel. In parallel with the commitment to protect public health, we must ensure that the gates of Israel remain open for Jews wishing to come. It takes great courage and sacrifice to make aliyah. Olim must be allowed to mark their celebrations and milestones surrounded by loved ones from abroad.

Immigration pilot trips, the arrival of parents of lone soldiers, and participation in family, religious and educational events form the basis of the integral and eternal connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

An Israeli flag [Ilustrative] (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)An Israeli flag [Ilustrative] (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

For years, Zionist education in the Diaspora has been the beating heart of Jewish life and has evoked a sense of belonging and connection to our national homeland, values and traditions. Even in these times of global pandemic, the arrival of groups to Israel, such as educators, students, and youth, is critical to Israel’s strategic future, as well as for the future generation of leaders in the Diaspora. How can we expect the next generation to be proud Zionists if they cannot experience Israel with all five senses? We must do everything in our power to keep their hearts beating and enable their arrival.

The values of shared destiny and collective responsibility that make the Jewish nation unique and are deeply ingrained in the culture of our people must still be reinforced in these days of global crisis. Every arbitrary banning of entry into the country must be countered by a response that will help protect public health in Israel on the one hand, and preserve the uniqueness and unity of the Jewish people on the other. We cannot risk the global Jewish community becoming disenfranchised.

In 2008, the government passed a resolution on assisting Jewish communities in the Diaspora in emergency or crisis situations. We have a responsibility to treat this pandemic and its consequences seriously and now is the time to apply the 2008 decision. The government must ensure that the gates of our homeland remain open to Jews seeking to visit Israel or explore the possibility of making aliyah.

This year, Israel will celebrate 74 years of independence. Founded on the values of aliyah and the eternal vision of being the national homeland of the Jewish people, Israel is committed to the unity of the Jewish people throughout the world.

The principle of collective responsibility has guided us for generations. To preserve it, decision makers should come up with a fair and reasonable solution for those who have stood by the State of Israel for years, fought for it and aspired to set foot on its soil. Mandatory isolation and vaccination as a condition to enter Israel can serve as an appropriate regulatory process that protects public health and preserves the State of Israel as the welcoming national home of all Jews. We are one nation, sharing a common destiny.

The writer is chairman of the World Zionist Organization and acting chairman of the Jewish Agency.