Israeli Expats Petition High Court for Not Allowing Their Children Into the Country

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Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport last month.
Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport last month.Credit: Hadas Parush

A group of 36 Israeli expats filed a petition against the Israeli government on Monday for refusing to allow their children, who are Israeli citizens, entry into the country because of a decades-old law suddenly being enforced.

The petition was filed in the High Court of Justice against Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the Population and Immigration Authority.

The petitioners are demanding that the government scrap the requirement that children of Israelis born outside the country must be registered with the local consulate as a condition for their entering the country. They are also requesting that the government allow their children to enter Israel on their foreign passports, as they were accustomed to doing before the coronavirus outbreak.

Responding in the name of the High Court, Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron requested that a hearing in the case be scheduled soon, and that the state be given up to 14 days before the date of the hearing to respond. The 36 petitioners are being represented by attorneys Batya Sachs and Gilad Itzhak Bar-Tal.

The petitioners are described in the court document as a “representative sample of a large group of thousands of Israelis whose entry into Israel has been denied.”

Requiring children to be registered at the Israeli consulate as a condition for entering the country, the petitioners argue, is unconstitutional. “The act of registering a child does not add or detract from that child’s status as an Israeli citizen,” the petition says, noting that citizens cannot be barred from their own country.

For some parents, the petition notes, registering their child at the consulate is not even possible because of opposition from their non-Israeli spouses or ex-spouses.

Israel’s Citizenship Law, passed in 1952, stipulates that anybody born to an Israeli citizen is automatically an Israeli citizen as well. Another law, passed more than a decade later, requires all Israelis with children born outside the country to register them at the nearby Israeli consulate. Yet another law requires that all Israeli citizens use their Israeli passports when traveling into and out of the country.

But until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, these requirements were rarely, if ever, enforced.

Since March 2020, barring rare exceptions, the Israeli government has prohibited foreigners from entering the country in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, since most people refrained from travelling during the lockdown period, the issue was not relevant until recent months.

In early April, the government announced that children of Israelis would not be able to enter the country without Israeli passports. That was the first time it had attempted to enforce the law, which had been on the books for decades.

What many Israeli expats discovered when trying to register their children and obtain Israeli passports for them was that the process was cumbersome, if not outright impossible. Israeli consulates abroad found themselves unable to cope with the enormous number of requests for appointments and inquiries over the phone, making it increasingly difficult for these families to fulfill the new requirements and obtain all the necessary documentation before their scheduled flights.

A Facebook group set up in recent weeks to allow those Israeli expats affected by the change in regulations to share information and organize has more than 4,000 members. 

Responding to mounting pressure from the expat community, the Foreign Ministry announced this week that it was setting up a special help center in Jerusalem to handle the flood of registration requests.

When asked last to respond to the demands of the expat community, the Interior Ministry said: “The fact that there are Israelis who choose not to act in accordance with Israeli law and not to register their children does not make this right, and they have no one to blame but themselves.”

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