An Israeli and a Pole

The way to make Israelis content with an Israeli passport is to make civil life here - for all the country's citizens and inhabitants - something all Israelis can be proud of.

Prof. Shlomo Avineri was born in Bielsko, Silesia, and according to him ("A European passport? No thank you," September 29), he is entitled to a European passport, but he forgoes his right. He then enumerates the many complex reasons why many Israelis seek a European passport, so as to shame those who did apply for conduct befitting "any persecuted and stateless Jew quick to latch onto any opportunity to survive."

He goes on to remind us that Israel was founded not only to ensure the Jewish people's right to self-determination. The Jewish state was formed, and grants citizenship - Israeli, not Jewish, mind you - "mainly because Europe had failed and betrayed us, as well as its own principles, and did not protect its Jews. The European betrayal preceded the Holocaust and prompted Theodor Herzl - for whom European culture was an essential element - to realize that the Jews had no future in Europe." He also chides the Israeli holders of European passports for their "ugly and immoral parasitic behavior" as "they do not pay taxes in these countries and are not really interested in what goes on there" and for what he labels "a cynical exploitation of Europe's collective sense of guilt."

"Our modern culture is to a large extent a product of the Continent," he admits. And this Europe embarked in recent decades on a path of forging a common European citizenship, which is not supposed to obliterate anyone's remaining French, German or Polish at the same time. Insisting on Israelis having one passport only is traveling the other way.

Many Jews hold Israeli passports due to the Law of Return, or due to being born in Israel, and that does not preclude their holding another passport from the state they dwell in, mostly the United States. Many of them do not pay taxes in Israel, and sizable numbers come, or are brought here, to vote. An Israeli passport is granted automatically to those who can prove they are Jewish, and is withheld, or granted only after long and exasperating formal procedures, to those who are supposedly entitled to it for humanitarian reasons, or to those who simply wish to share our lot as citizens of Israel.

The civil rights of a citizen of a sovereign state include the right to hold as many passports as citizens can get (provided the law allows for dual citizenship, and Israeli law as of this writing does) or to feel content with only one, without anyone questioning one's motives. I have an Israeli passport due to the Law of Return and also hold a European passport, as I was born in Poland and feel very much part of its culture. I'm a Pole because that's the way I like it. And I'm for Israel allowing all Israelis to be whatever they like to be, as long as they abide by Israeli law and do no harm to their fellow Israelis.

For many years now, the State of Israel has been pursuing policies, in terms of the occupation and other issues, that cause quite a few of its citizens to feel ashamed of being Israelis. True, Israeli policies largely result from grave, even existential, threats. True, many states and authorities that surround and endanger us treat their citizens far worse. And it is also true that Israeli governments conducting such policies were democratically elected.

The parties and leaders I've voted for since 1968 either did not win or failed to deliver on their campaign promises. And, after being a witness unable to change the situation on many things done by the State of Israel that made me ashamed to be an Israeli, I've even considered (and that was before I had a European passport) relinquishing my citizenship and applying to remain in Israel as a permanent resident who pledges to pay all taxes due and to obey all Israeli laws. I'm an Israeli also because I like it that way. This is the state in which I've chosen to lead my life, and it is a state I deeply care about. This is my language, Hebrew, and this is my culture, Israeli and Jewish.

The way to make Israelis content with an Israeli passport is not to hound those who applied for and received another passport, but to make civil life here - for all the country's citizens and inhabitants - something all Israelis can be proud of. That is the ultimate test.