Yisrael Beiteinu Bill Could Help Criminals Gain Citizenship

Bill would grant an Israeli passport to new immigrants who choose not to settle in Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, December, 2016.
Emil Salman

Yisrael Beiteinu is promoting a bill that would require the Interior Minister to immediately grant an Israeli passport to new immigrants who choose not to settle in Israel, as long as they forgo the material benefits granted to new immigrants.

The Public Security Ministry warned over a decade ago that such a step would in fact benefit foreign criminals and dodgy international businessmen.

New immigrants are eligible to receive an Israeli passport only after one year of residence, and only after it is determined that Israel is the “center of their lives.”

The bill’s preamble says its purpose is to make it easier for new immigrants whose families remained abroad to travel during the initial one-year period. The bill has been proposed many times over the years, sponsored by both left-wing and right-wing Knesset members, but without success.

The proposed law will be discussed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, which will decide whether to give the bill official government backing.

In 2004, the cabinet decided to permit, but not require, the interior minister to issue passports in such cases, even if the immigrant plans to continue living outside of Israel. At the time, the main justification for the decision was to allow someone who represents Israel overseas in such areas as science, culture, art or sports to do so with an Israeli passport.

After the resolution was passed, representatives of the Public Security Ministry made it clear that such a step could serve as an opening for criminals, including shady oligarchs, to use such passports.

“There are many criminal elements who simply very much want to receive and Israeli passport in order to remove all the limitations on their trips overseas and their businesses,” said at the time police Chief Inspector Marina Barel-Rosenzweig, who was in charge of the international crimes unit in the Public Security Ministry.

She told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, in a session called in the wake of the cabinet resolution, that the police found its terms problematic, particularly concerning businessmen from the former Soviet Union, and the police were very worried about such people bringing into Israel funds of unknown provenance — even though many such individuals were legitimate businessmen who contributed to Israel’s economy.

People who receive an Israeli passport will travel all over the world and represent themselves as Israeli citizens, and afterwards the police here will receive extradition requests and other requests from countries with which Israel has excellent relations, added Barel-Rosenzweig. “In the end it will become our problem, even though the person almost never enters Israel.”