Israel is making a mistake in barring diaspora educators due to COVID

Every year, more than 80,000 young Jews arrive within the framework of educational tourism on programs intended to strengthen their relationship with the State of Israel.

A group of MASA participants hike in the Negev near Machtesh Ramon on April 21 2013 (photo credit: SARAH SCHUMAN/ FLASH90)
A group of MASA participants hike in the Negev near Machtesh Ramon on April 21 2013
(photo credit: SARAH SCHUMAN/ FLASH90)
This past week was particularly frustrating. In addition to the difficult situation of the nearly total shutdown of educational tourism, we had to deal with countless conversations, via Zoom, explaining to furious Diaspora educators and community leaders that they are not distributors of diseases.
Every year, more than 80,000 young Jews arrive within the framework of educational tourism on programs intended to strengthen their relationship with the State of Israel. Many of them stay for long visits.
Some students, upon their return to the Diaspora, engage day and night in the struggle on campus against the toxic messages of Holocaust denial and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that work against the very existence of the Jewish state. Others are active members of Zionist youth movements, even as friends rapidly lose their connection to Israel and the Jewish people.
These supposed “spreaders of disease” include students from the best universities in Europe and North America, who leave behind promising careers in their countries of origin and join, first as interns and later as full-fledged employees, the Israeli research institutes and hi-tech companies leading the struggle against the global pandemic, for the benefit of the people of Israel and the entire world.
Similarly, hundreds of Jewish students with teaching certificates decide every year to abandon their routine and volunteer to teach English to pupils in Israel’s elementary schools.
And this is the 12th year that dozens of Jewish physicians from Europe are coming for a special preparatory course that will help them pass the Health Ministry licensing exams and then integrate into the military and civil health systems. More than 700 doctors have attended the program, and 94% of them changed their status from tourist to new immigrant at the end of the year, bolstering the overstretched health system.
In light of all this, is it still necessary to explain that we in educational tourism are not “distributors” of the deadly virus, but on the contrary, we are part of the struggle against it?
Try to explain this to many in the Israeli media, important politicians and the general public, who seem to enjoy spreading their “unconditional love” whenever they see a chance to tie anything or anyone to haredim (ultra-Orthodox). Try to explain that there is no connection between a single flight of yeshiva students who arrived during the first wave of the virus and the chaos they created at the airport, and the best of our youth and of the Jewish people around the world.
Try to explain this to the professional populists that the members of the young generation who arrive each year, and, especially through their parents, inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Israeli economy. They spend money at tens of thousands of small businesses in the periphery, at educational sites, restaurants, guest houses, hostels, hotels and institutions of higher education, employing thousands of guides and others who support their families by working for myriad organizations, youth movements, and companies. They leave behind hundreds of millions of dollars that benefit the whole of Israeli society.
Try to explain that in the Jewish life cycle, there is a one-time window of opportunity for a significant visit to Israel. A few months between graduating high school and leaving home and community, and perhaps a youth movement, and the transition to a university environment generally hostile to Israel that makes it very difficult to maintain one’s Jewish identity and character.
Try to explain that we are in continuous touch with all relevant ministries and authorities dealing with the sophisticated Purple Ribbon standard for keeping people safe from the novel coronavirus. That we spend every day striving our utmost to maintain the health and safe environment of the young visitors. That this is the case where they reside as well as in the institutions of higher education and the thousands of other places where they train and integrate and contribute. That we are doing everything possible to ensure the health of the visitors and of the public.
Thus, for example, we decided that every residential complex will have a “corona supervisor” living in it for the duration of the initial two-week isolation period.
Upon arrival in Israel, students will enter their residential complex through a side door while there is no one in the hallways. They will be accommodated in capsules of 2-6 people, according to the size of the room, and each room under isolation will have a special notice affixed making the isolation rules clear. Closed circuit cameras will be placed in the halls to ensure that participants maintain isolation.
If all this were not enough, we have decided to open the “corona tip line,” a mechanism for reporting participants breaking isolation. Those who violate the conditions of isolation will immediately be sent back to their country of origin.
And recently, we initiated “double isolation” for some program participants – two weeks in their country of origin in addition to the standard two weeks upon arrival in Israel.
Try to explain that you act out of a profound sense of social responsibility, toward both Israeli society and the future of the Jewish people, and that thousands of youngsters have come to Israel in the framework of educational tourism since the outbreak of the pandemic, without infecting a single person. Try to explain that we are under constant supervision by the authorities and invest a lot of money, some of which comes from the participants and pays for protective means and information from the Israeli instructors and employees who work day and night for the entire operation to succeed.
Try to explain, and damn the disinformation.
The writer is CEO of the Israel Experience, an educational branch of the Jewish Agency.