Two Passports to Paradise?

16 Dec

Open any of Israel’s daily newspapers and on the back pages you’ll find stamp-size ads that promise a better future.  They’re listed at the bottom in bold type: GET YOUR EUROPEAN PASSPORT.  The ads are a barometer of the national mood.  There’s more of them, it seems, when things in Israel aren’t going well, i.e., the recent week-long war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, the upcoming national elections in January 2013, the spike in the price of housing.

Polish Passport

Polish Passport

The idea is simple: if your mother or father, or grandparents, alive or dead, were at one time citizens of, say, Poland, and you can prove it, then you, as the applicant, can claim a Polish passport as well.

As an Israeli/Polish citizen, the doors to the European Union (EU) are now wide open.  You may study abroad, in Poland or in Oxford, England, work in Vienna or Helsinki, buy real estate in Berlin.  And you can buy Belgian chocolate for your not-as-fortunate left-behind family members when you come to visit them during the summer in Israel, in the “old country.”

European Union

European Union

Behind these small newspaper ads there’s a small army of service providers that include attorneys, contractors, notary publics, interpreters, translators, photographers, national archive researchers, website developers, advertisers, bill collectors — and that’s only in Israel.

To get the coveted passport/citizenship you may have to jump through more hoops than a circus horse.  And eat plenty of hay.   The TO-DO list is long and expensive.  Online companies offer to hold your hand while putting their other hand in your pocket.  You’ll have to provide original birth/death certificates of your family tree, be fingerprinted, photographed, notarized,  interviewed.  All has to be completed in Polish, in triplicate, please.  Pull out your wallet, pay from $600 to $1000 at the cash register.  Take a seat on that bench in the corner for the next 18 months, and don’t call for status during the Polish Holidays.

And yet, many Israelis go though this ordeal.  From 2000 to 2007, according to Dr. Yossi Harpaz from Tel Aviv University School of Sociology, 100,000 foreign passports (!) were issued to Israelis by Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.  Not everyone is happy.  Even those that are eligible choose not to apply.  They accuse their Ashkenazi brothers of selling short their homeland and going back to the countries that sent them to the death camps.

Seeking such passports when Israel was first established would have bordered on treason.  The country and its people from the world over were united then around key goals: Nation-building and defending against the Arabs.

German Passport

German Passport

Today the threads of the nation’s quilt are getting frayed in some places.  Everyone’s in one bed, pulling the blanket every which way.  The goals have changed.  The Arabs cannot defeat Israel.  Its citizens are preoccupied with sectarian politics, the Orthodox, the Arab minority, education, jobs — all the symptoms of a nation that’s showing its age.

And this is why getting a European passport is no longer creating an uproar.  Everyone’s looking for an edge, real or imagined.

Dr. Harpaz, the son of Romanian parents and who’d gotten his own Romanian passport, doesn’t see it as an act of betrayal.  His scholarly research shows that fewer than 10% actually follow through on their plans to immigrate out of Israel.  In today’s global economy, it’s all about having the right connections and assets, and the European passport is one such tool in the toolbox.  He cites Switzerland and Holland which have as small populations as Israel and without threats of war and still, they experience negative migration.  Young, upwardly mobile people from Zurich and Amsterdam are staking their future elsewhere.

For the highly professional Israelis, the economic lure of Poland or Hungary, for example, is non-existent.  They earn much more at home.  For them, the U.S. and Canada is the place to be, and a Polish passport will not admit them there.

The Sephardic Jews in Israel don’t call on these passport ads.  They don’t have this “privilege.”   In the early 1950s the governments of Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria, etc, stripped them of their citizenship, their passports, forced them to get the hell out —  to Israel.  Millions of Israelis of Sephardic background are UNABLE  to “get back” their citizenship from these Arab regimes.  This led to the Ashkenazi Jews who are seeking a European passport to be labeled as the “Exodus of the Able.”

Let’s get a second passport, this “Just in case” gene is embedded deep under the skin of the  Wandering Jew.  Throughout history we had the horses saddled and the engines running to make a quick get away.  We slept uneasily.  We saved for a rainy day when the sun was out.  Jewish chicken soup might help the common cold, but a European passport might be the ticket out.

It may not help, but it can’t “huit.”


What about you?  If you had a parent who was born outside the country you were born in — would you get a second passport?  Why?


5 Responses to “Two Passports to Paradise?”

  1. rachel bar December 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Great post! Rings so true. Lucky you, you have an American passport:)

  2. Adi Harari December 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    It seems that until recently this whole passport idea was a joke. This turn out to be all new to me. On a personal note I don’t think Morsi will consider my application favorably or that it is the best timing to apply for citizenship in Halab.
    Excellent blog. Thanks Maurice.

    • Maurice Labi December 16, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

      You’re right, Adi. It’s not safe for you to go back to your homeland, to Egypt. But Israel will take you back even with your American passport. Thanks for following me around.

  3. Meg December 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Thought-provoking blog, Maurice. I personally would LOVE to have dual citizenship & passports to go with it: USA & Scotland. You know if I get cut, I bleed tartan! [hahahohohehe]

  4. Michelle January 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    I know it’s not nearly the same thing because the amount of history and tension just isn’t there, but here in Sacramento, we refer to the phenomenon of young innovators leaving town for “better” opportunities in San Francisco the “brain drain.” I don’t take it personally, but it does suggest that Sacramento isn’t enough.
    As for the passport, I do have a parent born in another country — you (!) and I would get a British passport, if for no other reason than the just-in-case possibility. It would be brilliant. Cheerio, old chap! (See? I’m already halfway there!)

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