All Israel
guest column

Is Israel discriminating against elderly immigrants and preventing family reunification?

New immigrants from North America arrive on a special "Aliyah Flight" on behalf of Nefesh B'Nefesh, at Ben Gurion International Airport, Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo: Flash90)

Thirteen years after Leah Scheier made aliyah, immigrated to Israel, her parents stated wanting to reunite with their children in Israel. However, to make the trip was “a miserable process rife with obstacles, endless bureaucracy and a complete lack of reason or transparency.” 

So Scheier writes in an opinion article for The Jerusalem Post, where she states her view that Israel is discriminating against elderly people seeking to immigrate.

Were it not for such discrimination, the obstacles Scheier’s parents have faced would be puzzling; because, 14 years ago, Scheier immigrated, along with her family, without a hitch; and three of her sisters also immigrated without difficulty. 

Scheier says the Jewish Agency has been supportive, doing all that was needed to facilitate their citizenship; so, she concludes that the major delays and many obstacles her parents are facing, in trying to immigrate to Israel, have to do with their advanced age.  

The agents that Scheier’s parents have spoken to at Israel’s Ministry of Interior “have ranged from indifferent to flat-out rude and insulting. One accused my father of making aliyah ‘for the health benefits.’ (My dad had excellent health benefits in the U.S.),” she writes. In America, older people enjoy benefits such as Medicare, which covers probably the same health benefits, if not more, than what Israel covers.

“Another agent acknowledged that the roadblocks my parents were encountering were intentional, designed to keep the elderly from making Israel their home (and presumably becoming a drain on national resources),” she writes.

It stands to reason that Scheier’s own application for citizenship would have cited her Jewishness as through her parents, making her eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return – which obviously happened. So why are those same parents now facing increased scrutiny and doubt as their application slogs through the system? 

Maybe it’s not, at all, an age issue!  

I am personally familiar with another elderly Jewish couple, now in their 80s, who, having been denied Israeli citizenship, have remained in the land – albeit, as prisoners, because if they leave, they will not be able to return again, having not been granted status for more than 12 years. 

Their granddaughter, oddly enough, did manage to get citizenship subsequent to the denial of theirs, but no one will recognize their legal right to be here.

I know of another few cases of Jewish individuals whose families have citizenship but who, themselves, have not been granted that right, despite having the right to it by birth.

All these cases have one thing in common: They have family members – whether children, grandchildren or parents – who were eligible to live in the Jewish homeland, while they were not. 

To illustrate this further is another case involving a Jewish couple in their 80s whose son became a citizen more than 20 years ago. Since then, he has married an Israeli citizen and has had five children.

Nothing would be more satisfying to this large family than to have all three generations living together in their ancestral homeland, as these grandparents spend their final years getting to know these precious children. Once again, their application has been languishing on the desk of some bureaucrat who doesn’t seem too interested in making this dream happen!

The obstacles are calculated roadblocks in an endless waiting game, designed to wear out the players. Whether through requests to furnish obscure family paperwork or just dragging out the process indefinitely, it all ends up the same way: Without legal status, the families are unable to do many crucial day-to-day activities – such as legally driving a car, which eventually requires an Israeli license; getting decent healthcare, other than the hyper-priced tourist policy, which is all they are eligible to purchase; or even getting remedial help in school for their children – making life impossibly hard and burdensome.

It would be one thing if there was a legitimate reason for being denied citizenship – such as not being born Jewish, not having converted to Judaism or not having at least one Jewish grandparent, which the Law of Return requires. But being prevented from reunification with family members already in Israel is cruel, and being prevented from enjoying their rights to benefits assigned to them because someone clearly thought they were eligible, as Jews, to be Israeli, is cruel! 

The situation smacks of uncaring bureaucrats who stubbornly refuse to recognize close blood relatives, who live here in anguish, knowing that their loved ones could be told, at any time, that they must leave.

In the case of Leah Scheier’s parents, at least one of whom was born in Georgia (the former USSR), there seems to be a systematic singling out of Russians and Ukrainians, who are often looked upon with a jaundiced eye as a result of intermarriage being a common practice among them. They are also often met with skepticism for not being religiously observant. Considering that communism and religion are not exactly a harmonious duo, that’s certainly not a strange phenomenon.  

Scheier states that her mother seems to have been approved, but her father is being asked to provide documentation which he is unable to secure from his birthplace, where it is not possible to get. Why, then, wouldn’t this family be able to enjoy reunification with their three children, just on the strength of the mother’s approval? 

And why wouldn’t the Israeli bureaucrats responsible for these decisions not realize that, as Jewish parents get older, they long to spend their remaining fleeting years with their Jewish children and grandchildren? 

Why is citizenship being guarded and protected as if it’s an exclusive commodity granted to some family members but not others? 

None of this makes sense, and while it’s happening to Scheier and these others I personally know, she states that turning to the aliyah-assistance organization Yad L’Olim has been futile, as they are “swamped” with similar requests.  

This adds up to something very sinister happening within Israel’s Interior Ministry, as it erects roadblocks to family reunification for those whose kids, grandkids and parents managed to receive status. This is unacceptable and unconscionable, and it’s time some honest and sincere government politician did something about this! 

Nothing could be more important than uniting families and allowing them to live in the same country, celebrate the holidays of their heritage together and to savor every precious moment they’ve been given to enjoy one another. 

Sadly, that desire is being prevented by those who run the Interior Ministry; someone in the Israeli government needs to look into this terrible injustice in order to preserve the most valuable asset we’ve been given by God Almighty – the blessing of Jewish generations, both past and future, united under one roof – Eretz Israel! 

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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