I first arrived in Israel in January 1984. At the time there was a rule from the Interior Ministry that one could only remain in Israel 365 days on a tourist visa before one’s “aliyah rights” started to kick in.
For anyone even vaguely considering one day immigrating to Israel, having any of those rights lost or shortened was a big deal financially. They included the amount of time one could buy a car at a discounted rate, similar reductions on rent subsidies, special deals on tuition at university and more.
Since I was planning aliyah, but was in Israel during those years as a tourist, I carefully calculated exactly 364 days in the country and left on that day, only returning when I formally moved here. This represented a significant hardship at the time: I had to leave both my job and girlfriend (the story does have a happen ending: we eventually got married and made aliyah together).
So it was with some surprise when I read a report in Haaretz that a bill in the Knesset sponsored by Shas MK Avraham Michaeli would permit Jews to live in Israel indefinitely on a tourist visa without ever having to formally immigrate (or lose their rights if and when they did make aliyah).
Michaeli’s rationale is that most people, if they stay here long enough, will eventually settle down, vote, and pay taxes like the rest of us, and that forcing them to leave reduces the chances of a future aliyah.
Israeli immigration officials are highly critical, asking why some people should be permitted stay in the country without the burdens the rest of us have – like serving in the army.
The bill has some strong public supporters. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky supports it, citing birthright as an example and saying, “The more Jews spend time in Israel, the stronger is their Jewish identity and there’s also a bigger chance that they will make aliyah. If you want more aliyah, there should be more Jews.”
Taking the opposing view, a former emissary for the Jewish Agency, Akiva Werber, felt that 27 months (according to rules, revised since my days here in the early 1980s, the amount of time one can now stay in the country without becoming making aliyah or obtaining temporary resident status), was enough to make a decision whether “to share our mutual fate as citizens or not.”
As for me, while such a change in the law would have helped me, I too don’t want to be an after-the-fact freier (the classic Israeli epithet for “sucker”), even if everything worked out just fine.
The bill is probably a tempest in a teacup and is unlikely to pass. After hearing objections, Michaeli instructed the ministries involved to decide “what makes sense from a professional point of view” and report back to him with proposed changes. He said he will consider those changes and then determine whether to amend the bill or continue to push it as is, according to Haaretz.
In any case, the Knesset session on the proposed change has been adjourned for the next two weeks.