This past Shabbat, we read the Torah portion of Shemot, where Moses is asked by God to go to Pharaoh and demand that he “let my people go.”
It is Pharaoh who recognizes that the Jews are a nation. He is the first to call us Am Bnei Yisrael. He recognizes the unity and destiny that the people of Israel share, and he is afraid of our strength.
Today, we see the reverse situation happening in Israel. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many restrictive regulations and the latest Omicron variant has seen the skies of Israel once again closed to all “foreigners,” including Jews who are not citizens and reside outside of Israel. Today, Jews from abroad are pleading with Israel to “let our people come home.”
Many of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who come on a regular basis to Israel for personal and business reasons are feeling increasingly detached, having lost connection for many long months with their relatives and friends. Many of our young people outside of Israel have had their trips canceled as a result of coronavirus restrictions, resulting in a lost opportunity to experience Israel firsthand. Even more upsetting are the important milestone occasions that have been missed: bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, births, weddings and, sadly, funerals.
Israel’s connection with the Diaspora is powerful and vibrant, and it is an inherent aspect of the unique character of our nation. The Jews of the Diaspora have always stood by Israel in our times of need, and we will likewise always have their backs.
In recent times, they have been crying out to visit their homeland. It is vital that they feel that they are being heard and that Israel’s doors are open for them.
As a homeland for all the Jewish people, we need to remain sensitive to this request and take the necessary measures to assist the Diaspora Jews in their efforts to come to Israel. We can find ways, in conjunction with any necessary health guidelines and restrictions, such as vaccination and quarantine requirements, to open our doors to Jews living abroad.
We must widen the existing criteria to ensure that everyone who has a legitimate reason to enter is able to do so, such as was done recently to enable foreign nationals with pregnant daughters to enter the country a week before the expected due date.
We should adopt similar simple and common-sense exemptions immediately. For instance, if an individual has a first-degree relative in Israel and wish to come for a simchah or other occasion, or if they have a business or a home in Israel, he/she should automatically be granted a permit to enter the country. The process must be made more efficient, and a response should be provided to each individual within 24 hours of submitting an application.
It is also crucial for us to be able to speedily determine all urgent humanitarian cases and exceptions. To date, these have taken too long to identify and process, sometimes as a result of the ever-mounting paperwork from applications flooding the system, sometimes due to lack of time to review each application in the detail required and at other times due to flawed regulations.
As a result, many individuals have been turned away for unsound reasons. Our next steps must be to simplify the overall process and ensure it is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible, so that those who require urgent admission into Israel receive a response quickly and are permitted to enter.
Our relationship as one people regardless of where we live will continue to be our main strength. Our bonds go beyond the restrictions, beyond COVID and beyond boundaries. Israel is in our heads and in our hearts.
As Pharaoh realized, we are a family, a nation bound to one another through thick and thin. Despite the hardships we are experiencing during this tremendously challenging period, we must not allow the temporary closure of skies and borders to affect our special relationship.
We know normality will return; our borders will open; and travel will recommence. Until that time, we must ensure that everything possible is done to ease the current situation and enable entry to as many of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora as possible.
Ambassador Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud, served as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minister of Science and Technology and Deputy Minister of Defense.