Last week, Haaretz reported on a major loophole in Israel’s policy of allowing only fully vaccinated tourists into the country, a loophole that makes it possible for totally unvaccinated tourists to potentially enter the country. The problem exposed in our reporting, which Israel’s Health Ministry said it was working to fix, led many readers to ask for more information.
On the latest episode of the Haaretz Weekly Podcast, reporter Allison Kaplan Sommer, who broke the story, answered some of the most pressing questions. Listen to the full interview in the attached media player, and also to a fascinating conversation with evangelical writer Joel Rosenberg on his meeting with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
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Here is a transcript of Allison's remarks, in conversation with host Amir Tibon.
What is Israel’s current policy on allowing tourists into the country?
“Starting from November 1, Israel has opened its borders to any tourist who is fully vaccinated according to Israel’s definition, which means any person who has been vaccinated three times against COVID-19, or who received their second vaccine dose within the past six months [or one shot in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine]. The rules are somewhat different for tourists who arrive as part of organized trips: they can enter even if they received their second dose more than six months ago, but they are then required to be tested every few days.
“Israel allows tourists recovered from COVID to enter the country if they possess a digital certificate of recovery. These are currently only available from countries in the European Union and those who have signed on to the EU digital program. There is no mechanism currently available to get around these restrictions – even if a tourist is willing to undergo an extended quarantine period or take a serological test.”
How is this policy being enforced?
“Tourists who enter as individuals, not as part of a group, are asked to fill out a form online stating their status of vaccination. They need to state which of the vaccines they received, and when. Once they fill it out, and the vaccination dates they type in meet Israel’s requirements, within minutes they are provided with both a document confirming they can enter Israel, and more importantly, a Green Pass – Israel’s version of a vaccine passport. The problem is that this form takes your word for it. It’s basically an honor system – you get sent the authorization to enter Israel, and the Green Pass, without actually having to show proof of vaccination. So in practice, the official, stated policy is only enforced by an honor system and can very easily be broken.
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“There is a second form, which allows you to upload your proof of vaccination, but many people aren’t aware it exists at all, and we’ve interviewed people who have already entered Israel last week without ever filling it out. The second form is almost an afterthought: after you’ve already gotten your entry permit and Green Pass, you can then, if you want, upload your proof of vaccination. I didn’t find any evidence that this second form is actually examined before, or even after, people have entered the country.”
Are some people intentionally using this loophole?
“One crazy thing I discovered is that some people who had managed to enter Israel before November 1, when only very few categories of tourists could enter the country, found out afterward that under the new rule, new tourists just arriving were getting a Green Pass. The tourists already in Israel have been unable to get them from the Health Ministry for weeks. They realized quickly that if they just falsely fill out the online entry form as if they are about to fly to land in Israel, even though they were already here – within minutes a Green Pass would arrive in their inbox.”
What was the Health Ministry’s response to the story?
“We gave them a lengthy period of time to reply, and eventually all they said was: ‘We’re aware of the problem and are working to fix it.’ That was last Tuesday. We haven’t heard from them since, but as of Sunday afternoon there was no indication that they had fixed it. For now, it’s still based on the honor system – if you write that you’ve been vaccinated, they basically take your word for it.”
What would actual enforcement look like and require?
“It would look more like what other countries around the world are doing: a process that could take longer for a tourist to get the entry permit, perhaps up to a week, during which a Health Ministry official or other government clerk would actually examine their proof of vaccination before they are allowed to enter the country and are given a Green Pass, and not just take their word for it.
“Another option is to do what the United States is doing, which is to require that foreigners flying into the country show documented proof of vaccination to airline representatives before boarding the flight. Either way, right now we have a very strict policy with very lax enforcement – and that always is an invitation for cheating and lying.”