New measures against foreign Jews seeking Israeli passports spark backlash

In recent years, thousands of people with Jewish heritage have traveled to Israel, applied for citizenship, and left shortly after obtaining a passport.

By World Israel News Staff

A series of new Israeli government measures aimed at preventing the so-called “Passport Aliyah” phenomenon, in which Jews obtain Israeli citizenship for the purposes of receiving an Israeli passport but with no intention to live in the country, have sparked backlash among Jewish community leaders across the globe.

In recent years, thousands of people with Jewish heritage, particularly from former Soviet bloc countries, have traveled to Israel, applied for citizenship, and left shortly after obtaining a passport.

The reason? Easier, visa-free travel to many European countries, courtesy of an Israeli passport.

Hebrew-language media reported that since Israel shuttered its doors to non-citizens at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, there has been a significant increase in Jews from the U.S., France, and other Western countries applying for Israeli citizenship.

But rather than genuinely seeking to settle in Israel, they were motivated by a desire not to be locked out of the country, where they may have family, friends or even vacation properties, during times when a blanket ban on tourists was implemented.

According to a recent report in Haaretz, the Interior Ministry will now require all potential new immigrants to pledge that they intend to move to the Jewish state “immediately” and “permanently” as grounds for accepting their citizenship applications.

Potential immigrants will also be asked to fill out a questionnaire meant to gauge their seriousness around making Israel their “center of life,” including whether or not they have opened a bank account in Israel or sold their assets in their home countries.

The declaration and questionnaire are ostensibly aimed at identifying people who seek to spend just a brief amount of time in Israel in order to obtain a passport — and in some cases collect cash benefits for new immigrants. However, critics say the process will discourage immigration and strain relations with the Diaspora.

Attorney Eli Nacht, deputy mayor of the southern coastal city Ashdod, which has a large Russian-speaking population, told Haaretz that new policies are not reflective of today’s reality in which people may live and work in several different countries.

“The desire to settle in Israel doesn’t necessarily mean that the move has to be immediate or permanent,” Nacht said.

“It’s part of an ongoing policy of restricting Aliyah,” he said, referring to rumors that the socalled “grandchild clause” will be stricken from Israel’s Law of Return. Israel’s Law of Return grants automatic citizenship to anyone who is Jewish, the child of a Jew, or the grandchild of a Jew.

“The [government] needs to realize… that this is a global world and people travel around a lot. Sometimes, they’re not ready to decide where they want to settle permanently, and that needs to be respected.”