MPs promise to fix COVID travel rules for family members of Israelis

A special hearing will be held in the Knesset in the coming days on the difficulties encountered under current coronavirus travel regulations by relatives of Israeli citizens who wish to visit them, the chairman of the Law and Constitution Committee said on Thursday, Gilad Kariv.

The committee spent part of its session listening to issues raised by civil society representatives familiar with the issue, including former MK Dov Lipman, founder of the NGO Yad L’Olim, former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh and Ronen Foxman of Nefesh B Nefesh.

“We will have a serious discussion on this,” Kariv promised, adding that the hearing will be held before his committee or the one dedicated to interior affairs and a date will be set as soon as the forum is more appropriate. decided.

Israel’s borders have been closed to foreign nationals for more than 20 months during the pandemic. Some exceptions were allowed for close relatives to attend life cycle events or visit lone soldiers, and a special procedure was established in April to allow vaccinated or recovered first-degree relatives of Israeli citizens to receive permission to enter the country. .

In September, however, the Ministry of Health changed its criteria to consider an individual vaccinated or recovered. To meet them, people must have been inoculated twice in the previous six months, vaccinated with a booster, recovered with an injection, or recovered within six months.

TRAVELERS LEAVING Israel this week queue at Ben-Gurion Airport. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

As of November 1, the country reopened its skies to foreign visitors who meet these conditions, requiring, in the case of recovered tourists, to present an electronic recovery certificate. At the same time, he canceled the possibility of requesting special permits as first-degree relatives.

This has practically left many who were able to visit Israel under the old system, unable to do so now, either because they do not meet the criteria (the drivers are not yet widely available) or because they cannot prove that they do.

Israel is part of the European Union COVID Digital Certificate Consortium, which includes more than 40 countries that provide mutually recognized electronic documentation. For people who are not from these countries, the Israeli authorities consider that recovery certificates are too easy to forge and are therefore not recognized.

Yad L’Olim, whose mission is to help the olim in their new life in Israel, including navigating the coronavirus bureaucracy, receives dozens of requests for help every day, Lipman said during the meeting.

To emphasize the absurdity of the situation, she shared the story of a grandmother in the US, recovered and vaccinated with two injections, but more than six months earlier, who approached the NGO earlier in the day because she would not be He was able to attend his granddaughter’s wedding in Israel in two weeks.

“He raised his granddaughter to be a Zionist and move to Israel, now the granddaughter is going to marry a fellow immigrant who came to serve as a lone soldier, and we are preventing her grandmother from attending,” he said.

During the committee hearing, the Director of the International Relations Division of the Ministry of Health, Asher Shalmon, pointed out that most countries in the world outside the EU program do not accept recovery certificates.

However, while “it is true that other countries do not allow the entry of recovered, countries like the United States allow the entry of vaccinated people more than 180 days in advance,” Lipman said after the meeting. “If we allowed that, it would solve most of our problems with the recovered ones.”

“The United States also allows everyone under the age of 18 to enter no matter what,” he added. “That is one of the biggest problems we have: children cannot visit Israel.”

Lipman stressed that a possible solution would be to require those who recover to undergo a serological test to demonstrate the presence of antibodies in their blood upon arrival in Israel.

The opportunity to expand the list of exceptional situations to receive special approval to enter the country will also be discussed at the next Knesset hearing.

At the moment, only the parents of a boyfriend or girlfriend can request permission to visit Israel without meeting the vaccination / recovery criteria, while no exceptions are considered for other family members or other occasions, including births or bar / bat mitzvahs. .

Foxman also emphasized that people who are making aliyah often encounter problems when boarding their flights because their special status as foreigners who are about to become Israeli citizens is not recognized in the COVID travel scheme and therefore not. They can present the required documentation to the airlines.

“Jews around the world feel that Israel has closed its doors to them and we must be sensitive to this,” Cotler-Wulsh said. “These people have given Israel their most prized possession, their children, and now, after finally opening the doors for them to come, we have closed them again.”

Kariv and MP Simon Davidson, himself an immigrant to Israel from the former Soviet Union, vowed to take the problems seriously and find a solution.

“The importance of this issue is crucial for the State of Israel and for the future of the Jewish people,” Davidson said. “We promise that we will not ignore this issue, it is important to me personally and to the members of this committee.”

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