Over One Million Israelis Could Soon Have a Passport from an EU Country

Austrian Press Agency (03/16/04)
lifted from dpa/Sara Lemel

Every Fifth Citizen of Israel – Stampeding the Embassies of the Enlargement Countries

More than 1.1 million Israelis could soon possess a passport from one of the EU member states if so desired. As an Israeli, becoming a citizen of the “most exclusive club in the world,” as the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, described the European Union, lies, however, in the distant future. As a study by the European Union reveals, every fifth Israeli could take this step as of May 1, the date of EU enlargement, adding eight new member states from Central Europe, together with Cyprus and Malta.

Six percent of the more than six million Israelis already possess a passport from one of the EU member states. Another fourteen percent, some 700,000 Israelis, can apply because either they or their parents originally came from one of the older or newer members states. According to reports by the media, thousands of Israelis are stampeding the embassies of EU member states in order to get a coveted passport. The run on passports is “so extreme, that some embassies are simply no longer able to cope with the number of applicants, “ wrote the newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. The waiting lines in front of the Polish, Hungarian and Czech embassies are particularly long.

At the Embassy of Poland alone, more than 120 requests for information were submitted everyweek. An estimated 300,000 people live in Israel who could submit their claim for a Polish passport.

Irrespective of the regular political tension, Israel and the EU have maintained active trade relations. In 1995 they signed an association agreement that went into effect five years later. The EU is Israel’s most important trading partner: While some forty percent of Israeli imports come from EU countries, Israel exports thirty percent of its products to Europe.

The EU study also revealed, however, the deep Israeli ambivalence toward Europe. Around three-fourths of all Israelis take the position that the EU is one-sided in its pro-Palestinian support in the Middle East conflict. The association of Europe with century-long persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust resonates still among many Israelis.

Nonetheless, given the unstable political situation, a European passport appears to be a “securitypolicy” for many Israelis. “It cannot hurt to have a foreign passport,” said the 54 year-old Mordehai Gil, who applied for a Polish passport. “I love Israel, but one can never know what it will be like tomorrow.” Others hope that possessing a European passport will make it easier to travel or study in Europe and the U.S.A. Also one can travel to countries that normally have remained closed to Israelis.

At a time when Israel is constructing a six hundred kilometer fortified wall along the territory of West Jordan, many Israelis look to the opening of borders between countries within Europe with quiet envy. One commentator from the newspaper, Maariv, wrote: “Many Israelis look with yearning to an enlarged Europe and want also to be able to dance at the party.”