May 24, 2010
Chicago, IL, USA
Are you Jewish? Do you want to be? If so, you’re entitled to an Israeli passport.
In Israel, the “Law of Return” provides means for all Jews, and individuals of Jewish ancestry, to acquire Israeli residency and citizenship. Israeli law defines Jewish ancestry as having at least one Jewish parent or grandparent.
In the event that you don’t fit the ancestry definition, the law also provides the ‘right of return’ to all converted Jews of all denominations, and the conversion need not take place in Israel in order for it to qualify.
In either case, the onus is on the applicant to provide adequate documentation proving either Jewish ancestry or conversion to Judaism… the Israeli authorities won’t just take your word for it, they will check.
Additionally, the Israeli government will conduct a brief background investigation to determine if the applicant is a fugitive, convicted violent criminal, or known associate of any enemy of the state.
Once accepted, the applicant is entitled to immediate citizenship. For the first year, a temporary travel document is issued in lieu of a passport. After the first year, the government issues a standard passport.
Israeli citizenship carries many advantages including visa free travel to the European Union and extended visa quotas for the United States. Moreover, Israeli citizens who obtain residency in certain EU countries have reduced requirements to eventually obtain EU citizenship.
Additionally, in 2008, the Israeli government passed several new tax incentives that apply specifically for new immigrants under the Law of Return. The new tax rules include a 10-year holiday on foreign source income and tax exemptions for foreign-based companies owned by new immigrants.
As you can imagine, though, the disadvantages of Israeli citizenship are significant. All males must serve in the Israeli Defense Force for three years after age 18, and remain as a reservist until his mid-40s. There are exemptions made, however, on grounds of religious or philosophical objection.
Furthermore, Israeli citizens find themselves a target, perhaps even more often than US citizens. The State of Israel is still not recognized in some parts of the world– if you have ever been to Saudi Arabia and looked at a map of the Middle East, the boundaries of Israel do not even exist on the map!
All in all, while I’m not advocating that anyone change his/her religion specifically to obtain a passport, I think that Israeli citizenship may be among the fastest, most cost effective citizenships to acquire if you have no other means available.
If you’re interested in getting started, the best place to get answers is your nearest Israeli consulate; they’re accustomed to fielding these questions all day long.