The Myth of the Second Passport: Most Jews Want It, but Few Use It

It's not only Jews lining up in Britain for German passports, but like most Israelis with a coveted second passport, few will use it even if they do get it.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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A man walks though Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2015.
A man walks though Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, October 22, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The reports of hundreds of British citizens lining up at the German embassy in London to enquire about restoring the citizenship that was stripped from their parents and grandparents over 70 years ago are slightly overblown. Many of them may be Jews, but they are not the only ones perturbed by the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union.

In any case, the 400 people who had enquired at the embassy as told to The New York Times, are at most only a tiny fraction of the 300,000-strong Jewish community in Britain. It’s just like last year’s reports and surveys claiming that British Jews were planning to leave for fear of anti-Semitism. They’re still there.

Even if Britain does finally leave the EU, which is far from certain, there is no country in the world, with the possible exception of the United States, where Jews are as well-integrated in the culture, in academia, as business leaders and as politicians and journalists, as they are in Britain. And yet, some Jews will always worry.

Just like many Israelis, who used their roots on the continent to obtain a purple EU passport but continued to live in Israel, many Britons want to have the right to live and work in Europe. Not just the Jews.

Even Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and for years the main cheerleader for leaving the EU, was spotted standing in line at the German embassy this week. It led of course to speculation that he was planning to take advantage of his wife’s German citizenship to get a passport for himself as well.

Farage denied that, saying he was there for “a personal reason.” But many Britons, especially the older ones who planned to spend their retirement on the sunny beaches of Spain – or who already moved to the continent – or those who own holiday homes in Provence and Tuscany, are concerned for their future. No one knows yet when and under what terms Britain will leave the EU and whether they will be allowed to continue living there visa-free.

The young are worried as well, though they seem to have less reason. Unlike most other EU members, Britian, at least for now, doesn’t suffer from high unemployment – it actually has record numbers in work. If anyone in Europe is searching for new opportunities, it is the young men and women flocking from Romania, Poland and even Italy to seek work in London.

Existential angst

Just the thought that their passport may not afford them the same kind of freedom to roam the world in the future, motivates some to look for options. But what are those worries compared to the existential angst of the wandering Jew? An escape passport has to be ready, along with the suitcase packed in the mental attic for the moment the Cossacks, or the Muslim immigrants, ride into town. What could be more fitting than for Germany to atone for its historical sins by supplying those passports.

Israelis have long been obsessed with owning a second passport. Preferably European, and made in Germany is the best. It’s no longer a luxury or much of a taboo, even. But why? Most of them continue to live in Israel. In the international rankings, a German passport allows visa-free travel to the highest number of countries (157), but an Israeli passport isn’t too bad either (138).

It may cut the queue at passport control in some airports, but much more time is spent filling forms and sitting in interviews to receive the desired travel document. Surveys have shown that despite all the politicians’ talk of the Iranian nuclear bomb, Israelis don’t feel under existential threat and emigration is no higher than many other Western countries.

Even the official number of Israelis who have chosen to live outside the Jewish state are inflated – they include tens, probably hundreds of thousands, of foreign-born Jews who got their Israeli citizenship in a very short “aliya.” It is their second-passport, the escape route to the Jewish haven for a rainy day.

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