By BERNIE BELLAN
(Posted June 8, updated June 11 & 17) My nephew, Jeremy Cooperstock, is a professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at McGill University in Montreal, spending his academic sabbatical year in Jerusalem.
He arrived last August with his wife, Vinita, their two boys, Teva and Shalev, and his mother (my sister), Ruth Cooperstock, joined them in September. Jeremy had been to Israel many times before, having lived there with his parents when his own father (the late Fred Cooperstock) spent a sabbatical year there himself when Fred was a professor. Jeremy and his wife, Vinita, were also married in Israel. He has been a committed Zionist all his life, but his most recent experience with Israeli bureaucracy—which ended with him being deported from the country, has left a very bitter taste in his mouth.
According to Jeremy, he was advised by the Visiting Scientists Coordinator of the Office of the Executive Vice President For Academic Affairs at the Technion, the institution with whom he is affiliated during his sabbatical, to come to Israel with his family on B2 tourist visas, which are valid for only three months. Shortly after his arrival, as Jeremy wrote me, “Following the instructions we were given from the Technion, we made an appointment with the Ministry of Interior to renew/extend these visas, so that we could remain in the country for the rest of the year.” The Ministry only scheduled the meeting for December, after the the B2 visas had already expired, but the Technion assured Jeremy that this wouldn’t be a problem. At the appointment, Jeremy provided all the requested documentation, and was told that the Ministry would contact him after the Jewish Agency verified that his family is Jewish.
What ensued, however, turned into one of those classic Israeli bureaucratic nightmares with which so many of us are familiar.
In April, as Jeremy was preparing to attend a conference the next month in Scotland, he was quite concerned that he would not be let back into Israel upon his return because he was still awaiting word from the Ministry about the visas. He made numerous attempts to reach the Ministry, with most of these simply ignored. On one occasion when he received a call back, the Ministry official told him, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”
So Jeremy prepared an article about his dealings with the Israeli bureaucrats, which he asked me to publish in case he was not allowed back into Israel. As it turned out, Jeremy did get back into Israel in May. He told me back then that he was simply waved through after the passport control officer made a brief call to his superior, and issued a new B2 visa, valid through August. Shortly thereafter, Jeremy received a call from the Ministry telling him that he could now come and pay for a visa that would be good until the end of June. As Jeremy asked the agent, “Why would I make a return trip to get a visa that has a shorter duration than the one I just received at the airport?”
But, his luck was about to run out. On Friday, June 7, Jeremy returned to Israel from a workshop in Germany. This time, he was stopped at Ben Gurion Airport and told he was being refused entry. Instead, he was deported back to Germany. How poignant!
As a result, I am now publishing the chronology that Jeremy prepared back in April, in which he outlined all the hurdles he had attempted to overcome, but without success.
As noted previously, Jeremy had made an appointment with the Ministry of Interior, during which he submitted the visa extension requests for himself and his family, along with the documentation requested.
Following that initial meeting, he encountered one roadblock after another, including, in Jeremy’s words (and as described in additional detail in the sidebar):
- My requests to the Ministry for follow-up information were largely ignored
- Ministry representatives (on the few occasions when I was actually able to speak to anyone there!) failed to pass along requests for information that were apparently received from the Jewish Agency
- almost all emails to the Ministry were ignored, although most were replied to with a pointer to a web form that they insist I use for all communications
- all submissions to the aforementioned web form were simply ignored
- most transmission attempts to the Ministry’s fax numbers (04-8633348 and 02-26469547) failed with error codes of “Remote side hang-up”, Busy”, or “No answer”, and
- despite my clarification that the visa renewal/extension was urgent only for me, given my upcoming travel, and despite the assurances of the Ministry’s representative on April 28 that she would contact me shortly for an appointment to obtain my new visa, I flew out on an expired visa.
I have no idea what sort of trouble I’m about to encounter at the airport. Will they just ask me some questions, I wondered, prevent me from leaving, or prevent me from returning?
But, in any case, this experience left us shaking our heads. In April, we had a fascinating tour of the Gaza periphery with IDF Col. (Res.) Grisha Yakubovich and heard about the challenges that Gazans experience obtaining the necessary permits to enter the country. They think it’s difficult for them? I’m not sure it’s any easier being a Jewish Canadian academic!
There you have it—a Kafkaesque situation in which someone is passed from office to office, complies with all requests for information, yet ends up failing to obtain necessary documents.
Shortly before Jeremy was to be put on a plane back to Germany, I was able to speak with him and asked him what his next step would be. He told me that since their house in Montreal is rented out for the year, he will probably wait in Europe, before he reunites with his family, after his boys finish their school year in Jerusalem. However, they are now worried about the Ministry of Interior banging down the door and deporting them too. As for his mother, Ruth is scheduled to return to Canada at the end of June.
Finally, I asked Jeremy whether, having gone through this nightmarish situation, he would consider returning to Israel. His answer: “Would you?”
Following is a brief timeline of the sequence of events which I have gone through in an attempt to have our visas extended:
October 22, 2018:
- faxed paperwork requesting visa extension appointment, along with letter from the Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, Technion
November 29, 2018:
- our B-2 visas expired; but according to our contact at the Technion, this wasn’t a problem since we had an appointment scheduled with the Ministry
December 10, 2018:
- appointment with Ministry offices in Haifa, showed passports, and provided the Ministry representative with completed visa extension/renewal forms, copies of marriage certificate, mother’s ketuba, children’s birth certificates, wife’s conversion certificate
- I was told that the Ministry would get back to us once they had received an answer from the Jewish Agency as requested by Ministry representative, also faxed copies of our passports, marriage certificate, and children’s birth certificates.
January 14, 2019:
- emailed Ministry requesting follow-up; was told to wait patiently
April 1, 2019:
- multiple attempts to call (*3450 and 02-6294666) but numbers dropped connection
- emailed summary of contact attempts, noting travel plans for the following month
April 2, 2019:
- received email response requesting passport numbers; emailed names and passport numbers of family members with me in Israel
April 3, 2019:
- attempted telephone call (*3450 and 02-6294666) but received \busy network”
- attempted to download the Robby personal assistant mobile app from https://www.gov.il/he/Departments/news/app_for_self_service but received notice “this app is not available for your region”
- emailed Ministry, noting dificulties in attempts to contact them
April 6, 2019:
- resent email with names and passport numbers of accompanying family in Israel
April 8, 2019:
- received call back from Ministry; told to wait patiently; asked what would happen if visa wasn’t renewed before I travelled; answer: “I don’t know; try visiting the Jerusalem office and explaining the problem”
April 15, 2019:
- visited Jerusalem office of Ministry; after lengthy wait, told, “You must deal exclusively with the Haifa office. We can’t do anything for you here.”
April 18, 2019:
- emailed and faxed request for follow-up with chronology of previous attempts, noting imminent travel date of May 4
April 28, 2019:
- visited Jerusalem o_ffice of the Ministry of Interior a second time; spoke with Ministry office manager who couldn’t do anything; told “the file is with Haifa”.
Upon consulting the computer, the manager claimed that Ministry had contacted me in February to request the names of the witnesses to my wife’s conversion (no such contact had been made) and insisted that I must deal with the Haifa office.
- Jerusalem office manager conveyed message to have Haifa office contact me; faxed copies of wife’s Certificate of Acceptance into Judaism, both Hebrew and English versions, with names of rabbi witnesses
- Haifa representative called to say she had attempted to contact me several times in February (no record of any such calls on my phone) because the Jewish Agency couldn’t read the signatures of the rabbis, and also required a separate letter attesting to mother being Jewish (apparently, a ketuba and letter from our rabbi, indicating that my mother is Jewish, do not suffice!)
- Haifa representative confirmed receipt of faxed conversion certificates, but indicated that she also needed a letter from the Technion that was addressed to the Ministry, providing the details of my appointment, passport information for me, my family members, and type of visa requested; incorrectly claimed that the letter previously provided (October 22) had been addressed to me rather than the Ministry of Interior
- emailed and faxed copy of letter from the Executive Vice President of Academic
Affairs, Technion (faxed originally October 18, 2018), along with copy of my passport (faxed originally December 10)
May 1, 2019:
- telephone call (*3450); urgent message conveyed to Haifa office
- third attempt at faxing passport (previously provided to Ministry on two separate occasions) to 04-8633348 (finally successful)
- faxed letter from Rabbi Kaplan attesting to my mother, Ruth Cooperstock, being Jewish
- sent web form reference #585975 urgently requesting information
Updated June 11
After the intervention of a highly placed individual with contacts in Israel’s government who happens to be a good friend of my nephew, Prof. Jeremy Cooperstock, Jeremy is to be allowed back into Israel after having been refused entry into Israel & deported to Germany on Friday. His deportation from Israel was not as a result of his having the wrong visa – despite what some individuals have suggested. (See picture here of his B2 visa that was good until Aug. 10.) It was a bureaucratic nightmare that should never have happened – but just try dealing with Israel’s bureaucracy.