Fear is driving Israelis to obtain foreign passports

More and more Israelis apply for a foreign passport, not for easier travel but because something has gone terribly wrong here…

The numbers are climbing rapidly and the phenomenon is intriguing: Many Israelis are longing for a second passport. If Shimon Peres (now president ) once promised “a car for every worker,” a second passport is now becoming the object of desire. If our forefathers dreamt of an Israeli passport, there are those among us who are now dreaming of a foreign passport.

A Bar-Ilan University study published in the journal Eretz Acheret has found that roughly 100,000 Israelis already hold a German passport. Over the past decade, the trend has strengthened and some 7,000 more Israelis join them every year. To these should be added the thousands of Israelis who hold foreign passports, mostly European countries. The excuses are strange and diverse, but at the base of them all are unease and anxiety, both personal and national. The foreign passport has become an insurance policy against a rainy day. It turns out there are more and more Israelis who are thinking that day may eventually come.

In recent years the Israeli passport has become useful and effective. It opens the gates of most countries of the world, except for parts of the Arab and Muslim world. It is hard to believe that those applying for a second passport are doing so in order to vacation in Tehran, tour Benghazi or take in the sights of San’a. The alibi that a European passport makes entering the United States easier cannot fully explain the phenomenon, which has no equivalent in other developed countries.

It should not be condemned, though. It reflects a mood, a natural and understandable consequence of the real and imagined fears that have been sown here. When Avrum Burg boasted of his French passport several years ago, a public outcry arose, but in vain. Presumably some of those who cried out did so because they do not have the option, like he does, of obtaining an additional passport for themselves. The others may have since crowded onto the line at one embassy or another.

The fact that Germany, of all places, is the passport provider of preference should also no longer touch off feelings of anger or shame. For many Israelis, Germany has long since become a country like any other: Our cabinet ministers ride in Audis, and the washing machines we import from there excel in their German quality. The scare campaigns have been effective, and the passport applicants are responding in an intelligent and sensible way. It turns out that they are far more rational than their leaders: If the leaders so want to scare us of the Iranian bomb, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and the hooligans from Gaza, if everything threatens to become a “Holocaust,” then it really does make sense to equip oneself with suitable means of protection. An additional passport, for example.

Anyone who believes an additional passport is a national shame and a social disgrace is invited to have a look at why Israelis desire them. If we had a leadership worthy of the name, one that instead of sowing anxieties did something to reduce them, and instead of terrifying us instilled hopes in us, then the lines at the German Embassy would have become shorter long ago. Instead of condemning the passport seekers, let us ask honestly and courageously: Why are they doing this? They are doing this because someone is scaring them, and no less so, because there is someone endangering our future here.

Passports? If the Palestinian people already had one real passport, maybe the Israelis wouldn’t need two. If Israel were to try at long last to be accepted in its region, with all that entails, then maybe the region would open to it by means of a single, blue and white passport. If Israel were also to take the advice of its friends in the world, especially in the countries of Europe, then perhaps we wouldn’t need their passports.

Israel is strong and established and ostensibly its passport should be sufficient for its citizens. The fact that it is not sufficient for many of them testifies, more than a thousand passports, that something has gone deeply wrong here. Israel, after all, arose to become a haven for the Jewish people, mainly from the horrors of Europe, yet in an irony of history, Europe is in fact becoming a haven for Israelis.

Anyone who can obtain an additional passport is of course invited to do so, but on the way back from the embassy he should ask whether his country has done everything in its power to ensure he will not need it. The answer to this is a resounding no. Still, I personally have no intention of applying for a second passport.

Gideon Levy


June 2, 2011


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