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Granting emergency access to Israel

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There has been a heated ongoing debate as to whether Israel should provide passports to those not intending to live in the country. In lieu of the current surge of violent attacks on Jews in the diaspora, this question is gaining renewed momentum, as many Israelis wish to provide an open door to potential Jewish refugees from the diaspora.

Contrary to the popular belief that modern day Israel was founded upon a wave of idealistic Zionists, the truth might be less romantic. In the early 1880’s many Jew fled pogroms in Russia to resettle elsewhere, the majority in America. However,  substantial number made it to Palestine, under Ottoman rule. In Arab neighborhoods such as Jaffa, these poverty stricken arrivals were viewed with contempt, but not for the popular misconception of their being Jewish, but actually Russian!

Turkish Ottomon, which ruled Palestine (later to be named Israel) was in a state of periodic warfare with Russia. It had reluctantly succumbed to making concessions to many other countries that had also engaged in hostilities with the fledging new nation, under the developing Young Turks revolution.

The more wealthier local Arabs in Palestine regarded themselves as privileged members of the Ottoman Empire, and saw these Jewish newcomers as part of the Russian community, protected by concessions that did not apply to the Arabs. This  was ironic seeing that these Jewish refugees had actually fled Russia, and were now still regarded as being part of that nation’s foreign adventurism. This misconception was oft repeated elsewhere in Ottoman Palestine as perceived through Arab eyes. From these ‘colonial’ roots it’s possible top trace the beginnings of a pan Arab nationalist movement that would eventually metamorphose into an Arab Palestinian identity, and onwards to a more radical Islamic creation.

Later Jewish arrivals to Palestine and then Israel, as it was still subject to international influence, bore the brunt of this colonial-occupation tag that helped fuel Arab and leftist propaganda claims. Arguably, even today Jews wishing to move to Israel either on idealogical grounds or to escape excessive abuse, can be confronted with navigating this identity challenge. Returning to our topic of gaining emergency access to Israel in these troubled times throughout the diaspora, the challenges one faces can include not only international politically inspired sources, but sadly from within the Jewish world in Israel itself.

The Jewish Homeland has many diverse groups seeing themselves as the sole gatekeepers to who should or should not be allowed to enter the country. In some respects it can be seen in a similar light to the earlier Arabs who saw themselves as the prominent citizen class of Ottoman Palestine, objecting to the ‘Russian’ newcomers. This observation in no way reflects the rightfulness or otherwise of the varying views, but does provide a glimpse into the existence of such an attitude.

These issues are once again coming to the fore as ideas have emerged to grant limited rights to Jews from the diaspora. It includes holding an Israeli passport without actually spending time in the country. Aside from the more obvious issues pertaining to the degree of one’s Jewish identity, other issues include more fundamental economic objections related to giving financial rights to Jews living overseas with little intention to move to Israel. It is this latter objection that I will address.

In the mid 1990’s many Chinese residents from Hong Kong wished to find a ‘bolt-hole’ prior to the colony being handed back to mainline China. New Zealand and Australia were highly favored destinations. Many New Zealanders expressed outrage at the prospect of having a wave of Chinese being granted permanent residency rights with all its advantages, while actually remaining in Hong Kong. At that time the country was faced with economic woes with a less than favorable balance of trade record. As an active businessman with a growing number of international agents assisting migrants wishing to resettle elsewhere, I worked through the New Zealand government to encourage suitable migrants to come to NZ. In particular, my organization focused on wealthy Chinese wishing to protect their capital investments. Other western countries also vied for the attention of these elite entrepreneurs.

The problem was that these targeted potential clients had thriving businesses in Hong Kong that needed constant attention. How could one encourage them to become New Zealand citizens under the climate of local hostility on the one hand, and cater for their own reluctance to make a total move on the other? Weighing all the various factors together a viable solution was found. Through my NZ government contacts I was invited to meet with Sir Malcolm Oswald, the Minister of Immigration. My plan was welcome and led to a change in government policy. In essence, I proposed that the potential citizens should transfer a significant amount of money into a New Zealand bank account on a term deposit. In addition, I argued favorably that having them remain close to their business location and foster trading channels with NZ would be tantamount to running an import / export business with New Zealand’s interests at the core of their undertakings. In return, they were given permanent residency status that would remain available whenever their circumstances required.

The plan was accepted and led to New Zealand gaining a strong financial boost when it was most needed, together with the eventual resettlement of qualified and experienced entrepreneurs.

Israel could also benefit from providing substantial residency rights to those able to develop business interests between their adopted country and Israel. It is common for Israelis to travel abroad for business purposes that includes being away for a considerable period of time, so it would not go against the spirit of having to be permanently rooted in Israel in order to enjoy residency rights. However, this plan should not be at the expense of less financially solvent Jews in the diaspora. With a little imagination a practical solution could be found that enables all Jews to enjoy limited residency access to Israel rolled out in proportion to their investment in Israel – be it based on just time spent in the country, occupational involvement, social and community activities, etc.

Image: Courtesy of ‘Really well made desks’ – Pixabay

David Bannister



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