My Word: Passports and identity

The fact that I can’t enter Saudi Arabia or Iran on an Israeli passport doesn’t mean I’m not free – it means those countries lack true liberty.

It’s strange how two people can see the same thing and come away with completely different conclusions. An acquaintance, adding one of those “You have to see this” messages for good measure, sent me a link to a short YouTube talk on’s site.
I’m not sure when it was recorded but its theme was particularly pertinent ahead of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, which is commemorated this year on April 8.
The clip was strong. And it left a lasting impression. The impression I was left with, however, was diametrically opposed to that of my acquaintance, and I expect very different from what Mrs. Lori Palatnik intended when she filmed it for her popular (and often thought-provoking) “Lori Almost Live!” video blog for Aish Hatorah.
The theme discussed by Palatnik with great poignancy was summed up in the title and subtitle: “Safe to be a Jew? A Jew can never have too many passports.”
In it she builds on a comment by a friend whose uncle was saved in World War II “because he had the right passport.
And then she said something very chilling, and I’ve never forgotten it. She said, ‘When you’re a Jew, you can never have too many passports.’” As Palatnik notes, “You know, we say never again and we think it can never happen again, but as you can see in the world, things are heating up...
“The Jewish people, well, it’s still not such a safe world for us.”
I agree.
But Palatnik’s conclusion is: The more passports a family owns, the better. Unlike Palatnik, I think the only essential passport is the Israeli one.
To put it bluntly, Palatnik’s blog was a product of the Diaspora.
Like Palatnik, I have friends and relatives who are eligible for multiple passports – British, Canadian, American, Australian, French and Israeli. One parent was born in one country; the other was born in a different country; their grandparents came from somewhere else; and they have chosen to live their lives in yet another corner of the world.
Before talk backers pull me to pieces like an invalidated travel document fed into a paper shredder, I also know Palestinians with more than one passport, not to mention Greeks and Armenians.
An Israeli passport is not the traveler’s best friend. It won’t get you into many countries, and – if discovered – it could make it almost impossible to get out of some, but that’s not the point. The Israeli passport is not about traveling freely, it’s about being free.
The fact that I can’t enter Saudi Arabia or Iran on an Israeli passport doesn’t mean I’m not free – it means those countries lack true liberty.
That many Israelis today believe the main function of a passport is to get the bearer safely through as many airport duty-free stores as possible shows that they take their liberty for granted. It might not say much for their sense of priorities and cultural values, but passes for a sign of normal life in the Western world.
When the new government was sworn in, much was made of the MKs, like American-born and -raised Dov Lipman, who had to give up their dual nationality. I can imagine it was an emotional moment. But the country is heading for its 65th birthday stronger than ever in an ever-turbulent world, a world in which even an American or British passport is no guarantee of safety.
As Palatnik correctly noted, sadly there are still many cases of anti-Semitism, including physical attacks. For Jews who have been assaulted in Sweden, Denmark, Russia, France, Britain and, yes, even university campuses in the US and Canada, the moral should not be to keep a spare passport in case they need to move to any other country to try their luck. The answer lies in Israel.
The world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated. Israel marks it, according to the Hebrew calendar, nestled fittingly between Passover and Independence Day.
Every year at this time I recall the words of writer and War of Independence fighter Haim Gouri, who once told me: “Israel was not born because of the Holocaust but in spite of it.”
Had Israel existed before the war, the Shoah might not have occurred, or not on such a devastating scale. Had there been an independent Jewish homeland, there would have been a safe haven. The millions of Jews who tried to escape would have had somewhere to go. Home. Not a place where the British Mandate could determine who entered and who would be turned away to die.
A strong Israel could have helped protect not only Jews around the world, but the world itself. That’s why when I see pictures of Israeli soldiers participating in the March of the Living, I’m filled not only with pride, but also a deep pain – the torment of wondering about what could have been.
IN THE 30-plus years that I’ve held an Israeli passport, there have been tremendous changes in this country. Every decade has brought different challenges but also growth and development.
I asked a random sample of Israeli-born friends who have second passports why they bothered, especially as bureaucracy differs from country to country but is never pleasant.
One admitted that some 25 years ago, in the wake of the terror attacks that followed the Oslo Accords, he had applied for a German passport based on the country of birth of his parents. It was, he confessed, a strange feeling to seek a document marked Deutschland as a sense of security – a safe route if he ever needed it.
Another told me she had taken out a French passport for a similar reason during the first intifada, although now many of her former classmates were moving to Israel to escape the threat of anti-Semitism there.
By the second intifada, and the more recent wars, most people I know not only stayed put but weren’t even moved to seek a second nationality as a possible escape route.
Davka, with that contrariness that comes so naturally to Israelis, when there’s a war on, they wanted to be at home.
The ethos of not leaving comrades behind in the field runs deep. Or perhaps there’s a feeling of safety in numbers. The threats still surround us, but this is no longer the Israel of 1948 or even pre-1967, when its very existence seemed to rely on a miracle.
Nearly all my younger friends and neighbors stay put when the going gets tough. Those who use a foreign passport now and again do so for the most Israeli of reasons – they hate standing in line. A foreign passport helps them clear immigration faster, it does not cause them an identity crisis.
And I hate to ruin a good conspiracy theory, but most Israelis with a second passport are not Mossad agents, they’re simply people who lack the patience to queue at a European border, or to negotiate a request for an American visa.
Ahead of Passover, Yediot Aharanot reported on data collected by Hebrew University demographer Prof. Sergio Della Pergola showing that the number of Jews living in Israel had symbolically passed the six million mark (out of an overall population of eight million). For the first time in modern history, Israel is now the world’s largest center of Jewry, ahead of the 5.5 million who live in the US.
American Jews, along with the 500,000 Jews in France, 380,000 in Canada, and 290,000 in the UK, are welcome.
Celebrating a population of six million Jews and the beginning of production of natural gas off the Israeli coast seem a strangely fitting way to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day this year. It could also mark a passport to success.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.