Posted on Tue, Feb. 04, 2003 WWW.OHIO.COM
Some Israelis Rely on European Passports
TEL AVIV, Israel - Holding relatives' faded birth certificates and speaking
a few choppy words of Polish, dozens of Israelis line up daily at the Polish
embassy to reclaim the citizenship their parents and grandparents lost after
fleeing wartime Europe.
Thousands of others are doing the same at German, Czech, Hungarian and other
embassies in Tel Aviv. They're not rushing to settle in Europe, but want to
obtain a second passport as an insurance policy in troubled times. Worries
about Israel's future have been fueled by more than two years of fighting
with the Palestinians.
Some see the lines outside the European embassies as a bad omen; the crowds
are large, considering Israel's population of 6.6 million. "It is an
indication that people don't fully believe in the future of this country,"
said Israeli author Tom Segev.
For decades, leaving Israel or applying for a foreign passport was spoken
about in whispers. Over the years tens of thousands of Israelis did move
abroad, but they were once widely scorned.
To many, Zionism was a sort of civil religion that spurred them to sacrifice
to build a nation in the biblical land from which the Jews were exiled 2,000
years ago. During the 1990s, it appeared to many as if the goal of peace and
prosperity, as well as acceptance by the Arab world, was within reach. Such
hopes - summed up by many here simply as "normalcy" - have receded, and
Zionist passions have thinned too. Those applying for a second passport are
quite open about it now.
Exact totals are not available, but the trend is clear: more than 2,300
Israelis sought German citizenship in 2002, more than double the figure of a
year before; at the Polish embassy, which used to handle a few dozen
citizenship applications a year, as many as 400 people have showed up in a
single day; inquiries about Czech citizenship are up 75 percent.
With part of Europe's formerly communist east joining the European Union,
Israelis who reclaim citizenship in countries such as Poland will soon be
able to freely work and study throughout the continent.
That is an attractive prospect in a country where hundreds have been killed
in terror attacks in about two years, and the standard of living, which had
approached Western European levels, is in decline.
Gili Regev, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor from Poland, said
that Israelis sacrificed for decades in hopes of something better, but
now "the belief that things would change is weakening." Regev, who lost his
high-tech job, said that "people are trying to figure out ways to have
Driving the trend is pragmatism of a younger generation that did not
experience the horrors suffered by European Jews in World War II.
"I have no intention to live in Europe; it's just to have the option. Maybe
some day I'll want to work there," said Eitan Reich, a 29-year-old out-of-
work industrial engineer in line at the Polish embassy last month, along
with dozens of other Israelis.
Oz Almog, a sociologist at Haifa University and author of a new book on the
weakening of Zionism, believes the emigration of even just a few thousand of
Israel's educated elite could threaten the country.
"You don't need a majority of the population to emigrate for this country to
disappear," Almog said. "You need a very small layer of the most capable,
the ones who lead, provide. That's what I'm afraid of."
Some say the level of despair in Israel rivals that of the eve of the 1967
Mideast war, when the young country faced political, economic and military
collapse as Arab armies massed on its borders. Many thousands left in the
mid-1960s. A popular joke of the day said there was a sign at Israel's
airport saying, "Would the last one out please turn off the lights."
Questions about Israel's future, some even expressing concerns about its
existence, again come up daily in newspaper columns, TV programs and in talk
among artists, intellectuals and activists.
"When I hear now that friends of mine are sending their children abroad...
there is something going on that places in great doubt everything we came
here for," Israeli novelist David Grossman, 49, said in a recent interview
with the Haaretz daily.
In one TV program, Holocaust survivors expressed outrage that Israelis would
seek passports from countries that once stripped Jews of citizenship.
Some in line outside the Polish embassy had mixed feelings.
"It's very strange. It took me a long time to decide to come here," said a
45-year-old man who gave only his first name, Moshe.
If his father and mother were still alive, he said, he probably wouldn't
apply for a Polish passport out of worry it would stir painful memories of
the anti-Semitism they endured there.
Polish ambassador Maciej Kozlowski said a revival of Jewish heritage
following the collapse of communism has helped some to cross those emotional
"For many people, Poland is a synonym of 'Holocaust,'" he said. "They regard
Poland more as a graveyard of the Jewish nation. To get out of this feeling
is emotionally strenuous."
Eitan Reich, the young unemployed industrial engineer, remembered how his
grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, refused to accept postwar
compensation from Germany as a matter of principle. His grandfather, the
only one of his family to escape death in Poland, said he would never return
"Times are changing. It's hard for me to see their perspective, their point
of view," Reich said. "It's not that I'm doing something wrong. If it's my
right, then I can use it."
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