What should Israelis living outside the country do about registering their children with the Israeli Population Registry as citizens? The question raises a host of moral, political, legal, financial and practical questions.
I’m a citizen from way back (1976), when my parents emigrated from the US to Jerusalem. My kids, however, both of whom born in Canada, are not. My ex wife and I always thought we’d like the kids to make their own decision when they were 18 or older. They are legally entitled to Israeli citizenship under Israeli law because I am a citizen. Indeed, I apparently was legally obliged to register them as citizens within 30 days of their birth.
Citizenship in the state of Israel, however, comes with all kinds of baggage, including possible mandatory military service, extra taxes while visiting the country, and legal problems if they were to try and visit specific Middle Eastern countries still at war with Israel, such as Lebanon or Iran.
Ethically, I’m deeply conflicted about Israel citizenship laws. One the one hand, I’m in favor of the idea of giving Jews citizenship should they ever face oppression or discrimination in their home countries. Jewish history, to m mind, indicates a need for a place Jews can flee to when they face existential danger.
On the other hand, Israeli citizenship laws have long been used in discriminatory ways to exclude Palestinians from their homeland and toprivilege the country’s Jewish character over that of its non-Jewish residents – Palestinians of Muslim, Christian, or Druze descent. I also understand the rage diaspora Palestinians feel when a Jew whose parents have lived peacefully in US for one hundred years receive Israeli citizenship as soon as they ask for it, while a Palestinian whose parents lived for generations in Haifa or Jaffa, and was forced to leave or prevented from returning in 1948, is denied the same privilege.
The issue is coming to head right now because of Israel’s Corona-era travel rules. In the past, I’ve been able to travel to the country with my non-citizen children on their foreign passports. Now, however, the government is demanding that any Israelis who visit the country during the pandemic fulfill their legal obligations and register their children as citizens. They are using public health controls, in other words, to enforce an unrelated law they have long ignored.
My kids and I planned this trip months and months ago, when we thought Corona would be over and done with by summer 2021. I am loath to give up those plans, as this is the last opportunity I’ll have to travel with my daughter while she is still in high school. So a few days ago I bit the bullet and sent in the paperwork with their names on it, promising to fill out all the other forms, and get the appropriate stamps, once we return from our visit to Israel. It wasn’t easy, as my military service was a difficult one, and I don’t want my kids to face the same situation. At the same time, I trust them to make the best choices for their own lives, and have to let go. I’ll sign them up as legally required, and will hope it turns out for the best.
Update: The Israeli government solved the dilemma for me. The consulate in Chicago responded to my request for entry with my kids with a form email telling me to “send in my application,” which is what I had sent them. I pointed this out, asked for a decision, and never heard back. We never made it to Israel in summer 2021! My daughter will be 18 soon, and can make her own decision. My son and I may try to travel to Israel before he’s 18, and we’ll have to deal again with the citizenship issue.