There is a war in eastern Europe, Ukraine is being ravaged, millions of people have turned overnight into refugees and NATO is amassing more troops and military equipment in Poland and along the borders with Russia.
Countries are rolling out plans to allow in refugees. After some controversy, Israel decided two weeks ago to allow in any refugee with family in Israel as well as, of course, anyone who is eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return. On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced plans for the United States to allow in 100,000 refugees from Ukraine.
While this is happening, Jews around the world are considering their future. Some see the war in Europe as a sign of bad things to come and are contemplating their own Aliyah to Israel. The problem is that they cannot get visas to come to Israel.
The reason – there is a Foreign Ministry Worker’s Union strike that has forced consulates and embassies overseas to suspend the issuance of visas and other consular work needed for people to be able to immigrate to Israel. While Ukraine has been exempted from the labor protest, Jews in other countries – including in Europe – are not able to move to Israel.
"I've been waiting for my visa so I can make Aliyah - but was told by the Jewish Agency representative in Paris that the Israeli Foreign Ministry workers are on strike, and therefore not issuing any new visas," one future immigrant and member of the Paris Jewish community in France told The Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein last week.
Over 50 French Jews are waiting for their visas to be issued in order to immigrate to Israel - and the process is not moving forward for many others as well.
In the US, potential olim say that while the consulates are supplying visas, they are not issuing new passports. "What COVID-19 didn't do to the state of Aliyah, the Foreign Ministry strike is doing - killing the Aliyah process," said a senior official in a European Jewish Organization.
Yomtob Kalfon, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Eligibility for the Law of Return and Diaspora Relations met with Jewish Agency officials in France last week.
"It is inconceivable that due to a union dispute in the Foreign Ministry, Jews will not be able to immigrate to Israel at all times and in any situation,” said the Yamina Knesset member. “For 74 years, Jews made Aliyah during times of war and even pandemic - there is no reason to stop Aliyah now.”
The idea that during a war in Europe Israel would not process Aliyah applications is something like an oxymoron. Israel’s raison d’etre was to serve as a place where Jews can always seek refuge. The fact that war is once again ravaging parts of Europe and people cannot immigrate to Israel undermines this purpose.
The responsibility to end this strike falls on a number of people. First and foremost are Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Also responsible is Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose office needs to come up with a plan that will help end the strike.
In principle, we don’t disagree with the reason the workers union is striking. For too long, Israeli diplomats have been underpaid and treated poorly by the state. It is time that they receive proper compensation for their hard work, illustrated no better than by the admirable work many have done in recent weeks along the borders with Ukraine.
But striking is not a solution at a time like this. Jews from around the world considering their future need to be able to know that Israel’s gates are open to them. Having them become stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare does not provide an image of an Israel that is supposed to be the home that we have yearned for and sacrificed so much to establish, build and defend.
End this strike and allow Jews - from wherever they are – the opportunity to receive visas and make Aliyah. Send the right message to the Jewish nation and the rest of the world – that when there is a global crisis, Israel does everything it can.