Non-Jews Stay Out, Jews Come In

Haaretz Editorial
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Religious men at Ben Gurion International Airport in November
Religious men at Ben Gurion International Airport in NovemberCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Haaretz Editorial

When the omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered, the government reimposed the ban on foreigners entering Israel – except for cases approved by the special exceptions committee. But it turns out that not all foreigners are banned to the same extent.

Last week, an interministerial panel allowed the entry of groups of tourists whose visits were described as “Jewish tourism.” This is how groups from Birthright and similar organizations were allowed to enter the country, while other groups, including Christian groups that wanted to visit Israel for Christmas, were turned down.

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Birthright tourists were required to spend three days in isolation and be tested for the coronavirus, just like Israelis. But unless Jews are naturally immune to the omicron variant, and the scientific community and government of Israel are hiding it from the public eye, this is a discriminatory exception, not to say a bigoted one, which has pulled the rug out from under the decision to ban the entry of tourists.

This is a startling move, reminiscent of the Netanyahu government’s exempting the United States from the list of countries whose tourists were barred entry to Israel, to allow the free entry of American Haredim. This decision drew public criticism, in part from those who were in the opposition at the time and today are in power.

If a country decides to close its doors to tourists because of the scope of the pandemic in their countries, then there is no logic or justification to make an exception for those countries’ Jews. There is good reason a protest arose in the church. Saturday is Christmas and churches are wondering, justifiably: “Why are Birthright visitors – who are foreign citizens – getting such a break, and Christian pilgrims are not? The only difference is that they are Jews, and nothing else.”

Making an exception for Jewish tourism is even more outrageous given the gross disrespect the government has demonstrated toward workers in the tourism industry. At a time when Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli says “it is legitimate to sacrifice the tourism industry,” and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman leaves travel agents and tour guides to “change their profession,” along comes Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to make an exception for Jewish tourism, on the basis that it’s an “enterprise of national importance.”

Is tourism not an enterprise of national importance? Through its discriminatory policy, the government is sending a distorted message, in which Jews from the Diaspora are more important to it than Israeli citizens. If indeed there is no need to close off entry to Israel, then the gates should be opened according to the rules, as in other countries around the world, and allow the controlled entry of tourists.

This zigzagging in decision-making – green malls, purple malls; the inter-ministerial disputes; vaccines for children – it’s all a mess, and the willingness to sacrifice some sectors and prioritize others for political reasons undermines the public’s faith in the government, the steps it’s taking and its recommendations. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett must get it together and make sure his government acts in a businesslike manner, calmly and responsibly, and with greater transparency and professionalism.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel

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