Nobody Expected the Spanish Validation

The rush for a second passport following premature media reports that Spain will offer citizenship to the descendants of pre-expulsion Jewish residents reveals Israelis’ basic fears. A Jew should always have a spare passport in his pocket.

“I’m going to have a Spanish passport!” my daughter announced on Monday. Patiently I tried to explain to her that the reports in the Israeli media that the Spanish government is going to award the descendants of the 1492 Expulsion are extremely premature, the Cortes has yet to approve the new law − and even if it ever does, I foresee some obstacles in the path of her mother’s family proving their claim to origins in the Caliphate of Cordoba. She was not dissuaded.

“If you’re so eager to have a foreign passport,” I countered, “why not get a British one?”

“Why not get both?” was her response.

I was about to explain that once she had the passport of a European Union member, she would have the same rights anyway, but stopped myself in time. With the rising levels of Europhobia in Britain as they are, by the time we get around to claiming her British citizenship, the “Brixit” may have taken place and a majority of voters will have opted to take Britain out of the EU.

Perhaps she should try and become a Spaniard. They may be facing their worst economic crisis in a generation with 26 percent unemployment, but at least that means they will not be leaving the union; Spain simply can’t afford to.

The deeper issue of what she wants to do with her new passport and whether she sees her future in Israel remained unexplored. She’s just started high school so there will be enough time to discuss that and to be quite frank, I don’t mind where she lives, as long as she’s happy.

But the obsession Israelis have with second passports, as seen once again this week in the media frenzy over the new Spanish law (which was prematurely misreported by nearly all Israeli media), is fascinating. I have still to get used to the envy with which perfectly normal Israelis, loyal Zionists who have no thought of emigration, regularly say to me “you’re lucky, you have a British passport.”

I must admit to having become very ambivalent to my “other” passport of late. Yes, it has been very useful to me, allowing me to quickly enter countries like Egypt or Tunisia which would have been very difficult, if not impossible, with my Israeli document, but recently I have discovered that it has some drawbacks. For instance, if I only had my British passport, I would have had to apply for a visa long in advance to visit Russia, which I didn’t have to as an Israeli. And despite the ongoing diplomatic crisis with Turkey, Israelis landing in Istanbul are still not required to pay 20 euros for a visa, as all citizens of the EU have to. And when I was detained at a demonstration in southern Turkey, the British passport did not impress the local police. Only when they realized I was also Israeli was I let go with a friendly admonishment.

I have also discovered recently that while many Israelis feel underprivileged by not having another passport, in many other places, local Jews who have no plans of making aliyah still go to extraordinary measures to obtain an Israeli passport and keep it current. Some are the children of Israelis. Others went through the motions of making aliyah but never really lived in Israel or seriously intended to. A few received Israeli passports in recognition of large donations or other contributions to the state.

What does this second citizenship mean to them? Some, like the young student in Oxford I interviewed this week and had difficulty speaking in Hebrew, are offended when I ask them how Israeli they really are if they’ve never lived outside their country of birth. For them, being also Israeli is a badge of Jewish pride. On the other hand, wealthy Russians have proudly said to me (through interpreters) that their Israeli citizenship enhances their standing in Russia and is useful for business.

No one − not Israelis waiting in line outside the Polish and German embassies in Tel Aviv and not Diaspora Jews who have somehow obtained a blue menorah-embossed booklet − want to admit what is at the backs of their mind: A Jew should always have a spare passport in his pocket. Things are quiet for now, but who knows, next year the Cossacks may come, the Arabs may throw us into the sea; all of us are alive today because some clear-sighted grandfather saw the coming storm and obtained a certificate on time. We owe it to our children to do the same.

I have dual citizenship − it was decided for me by my parents, so it would be churlish for me to criticize Israelis or Diaspora Jews who aspire to it. But I made the choice not to obtain a second passport for my children, though I have every right to do so. I want them to make the choice and I hope that when they do, their choice won’t have been influenced too much by a historical complex or fears of war and persecution.

Israelis are beginning to grow up and while some government ministers and populist commentators are still bewailing the waves of yordim and a brain drain of Israel’s best and brightest, there is a gradual understanding and acceptance of a healthy ratio of emigration-immigration. A sober appraisal of the figures shows that Israel is no different from any Western country in this aspect: Thousands of young people leave every year seeking to broaden their horizons, breathe a little and search for the kind of opportunities that a tiny country in the Middle East will never be capable of offering, even after we solve all our issues with our neighbors. Many more remain, a lot of them return and with them arrive some newcomers. That’s how emigration in the developed world of the 21st century works, and the hysteria of second passports and the fear of being “the last one to leave” are holdbacks from a departed age.

The Jewish State has enough serious issues, but no reliable figures show that the danger of abandonment is one of them. And neither will any of its problems be solved by an influx of Jews searching for a bolt-hole. The Cossacks aren’t coming and a passport is just a piece of paper − it won’t guarantee you happiness, wherever you choose to live your life.

Follow me on Twitter @AnshelPfeffer

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