Choice for caregiver: Daughter or Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor

Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivor is at the center of a spat between his Filipina caregiver and the Australian government, which has made it clear that if she leaves the country she will not be permitted to return.

Elenita Fernandez, 43, was in Australia on a tourist visa when she began caring for Helen Roberts. Following the death of Roberts eight years ago, Fernandez fulfilled a promise to her to look after her husband, Richard Roberts, a Holocaust survivor who is now 103 years old.

But April 24 marks the 18th birthday of Fernandez’s daughter Manlyn Mae and the caregiver is desperate to be with her in the Philippines to mark the occasion. Lawyers have requested that Fernandez’s visa be changed to one that will allow her to reenter Australia, but the matter remains in the hands of the government.

Fernandez lives in the same house as Roberts, which is in Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s political district in Sydney. A spokesman for the prime minister told J-Wire: “We can assure Elenita that the due process is underway but it can take a year. Until a decision is reached she is welcome to stay in Sydney and care for Mr. Roberts.”

Richard Roberts told JTA: “I arrived in Sydney in 1938 from Vienna having obtained a permit in England. I spent time in both Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps before being released and given a short time to leave the country. Australia has been wonderful to me. Now I am hoping that Lenie will be allowed to travel and return. We have bought a return air fare to show that she is coming back.”

As her daughter’s birthday approaches, Fernandez must decide if she is to risk traveling to the Philippines to be with her daughter and possibly forsake the opportunity of continuing to look after the man she has tended night and day for eight years.

“We are begging the government to give us a chance to let me go and return to look after Dick,” she told JTA.

When asked if she would instead join her daughter for her birthday on Skype, Fernandez replied: “My daughter has made it clear she does not want to celebrate her birthday without me there.”

House passes bill to tighten visa waiver program

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to tighten restrictions on travel to the United States by citizens of the 38 nations who are allowed to enter the country without obtaining a visa.

The bill, the second major piece of security legislation approved in the chamber since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, passed by 407 to 19.

Among other things, the measure would require visitors from the visa waiver countries, which include much of western Europe, to obtain a visa to travel to the United States if they had been to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan during the past five years.

It also would also require countries participating in the program to share information with U.S. authorities about suspected terrorists.

“This legislation will help close gaping security gaps and improve our ability to stop dangerous individuals before they reach our shores,” said Republican Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

About 20 million visitors a year enter the United States under the program, which allows them to stay 90 days. It was started in 1986 to boost tourism and tighten the country's relationship with its closest allies.

Backing for the other security bill passed in the House, imposing tough new screening requirements on refugees from Syria and Iraq, was far more partisan. Just 47 Democrats joined the 242 Republicans who voted for it and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, promised a veto.

Debate about border controls has grown more acrimonious since last week's attacks in SanBernardino, Calif., by a Muslim couple who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed that Muslims be banned from entering the United States, remarks that drew international condemnation.

The Senate has not scheduled a vote on either measure, and both could be included in a trillion-dollar spending bill that Congress must pass in the next few days in order to keep the government open.

The White House has expressed support for tightening the visa waiver program.

Israel’s visa waiver chances dim

Right now, an Israeli citizen who wants to travel to the United States has to contend with long lines at the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv and a long wait to see if the visa application will be approved. Even Miss Israel had to cancel an appearance at an event in New York last year because she couldn’t get a visa in time. 

The odds that Israelis will soon be able to avoid such bureaucratic hassles just got a good deal longer. 

On Jan. 29, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs gave its approval to the H.R. 938 U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, a pro-Israel bill with broad support in the House of Representatives. That bill, which increases cooperation between Israel and the U.S. and has 351 co-ponsors, may have moved one step closer to a vote on the House floor, but it advanced without legislative language that would have admitted Israel to the United States’ visa waiver program, which would have granted Israelis the privilege of traveling to the United States without applying for a visa in advance.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) has twice introduced stand-alone legislation granting Israel entry into the program, and he managed to convince Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to include the language in her version of the legislation, S. 462. But despite Sherman’s efforts, the text approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Sherman is a senior member, merely requires the secretary of state to report back to Congress on whether Israel has satisfied the requirements for entry into the program. 

In 2013, when Sherman first introduced his stand-alone version of the visa waiver bill, he secured support from then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He described the language in H.R. 938 as “a placeholder that will allow us to add our language at some future date,” but acknowledged that the prospects for Israel’s entry into the program as being about “50-50,” at best. 

For that to happen, Boxer’s bill would have to advance in the Senate in its current form, including a clause drawn from Sherman’s bill that, according to Arab-American, Muslim-American and civil liberties groups, exempts Israel from a key requirement of the program. 

“For a country to be admitted into the visa waiver program, they have to grant reciprocal travel privileges,” Yasmine Taeb, government relations manager for the Arab American Institute (AAI), told the Journal. While Israel currently waives visa requirements for Americans, AAI has accused the Jewish state of discriminating against Arab- and Muslim-Americans, and has compiled stories from “dozens of U.S. citizens,” said Taeb, who, upon arrival to Israel, were “treated differently, detained or denied entry, simply because of their ethnicity or religion.”

“I would be very surprised if [Boxer] was able to bring her bill either to markup or to the Senate floor as it is right now,” Taeb added, “because it won’t pass.”

Sherman disagreed with the characterization of his legislative language as exempting Israel from any requirement, arguing that the security measures currently employed by Israel at its borders are not dissimilar to those the United States uses when dealing with citizens of countries currently in the visa waiver program. 

Clearing the Senate is only one hurdle. Were the Senate and House bills to pass in their current forms, they would still need to be reconciled by a conference committee, at which point Sherman’s preferred language could again face scrutiny. 

Even if the bill is signed into law with the visa waiver clause intact, Israel would still need a pass on one more key qualification for entry into the visa waiver program. In 2013, Israel’s “non-immigrant visa refusal rate” — the rate at which American consular workers in Tel Aviv decline to issue tourist or business visas to Israelis — was 9.7 percent, far higher than the 3 percent rate required for entry to the program, and even above the temporarily relaxed 8 percent benchmark under which eight countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia and South Korea, qualified in 2008 for the program. 

In an interview, Sherman didn’t dispute that the odds are stacked against Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program, but said he believes the reasons have far more to do with the way business gets done in Washington and in Congress. The visa waiver provision faces opposition from the executive branch, Sherman said, which “hates the legislative branch telling them what to do,” and from the House Judiciary Committee, which traditionally prefers not to name particular countries in the legislation it approves.  

“But, overwhelmingly, the obstacle is visas are part of the immigration discussion,” Sherman said, “and a little thing that should go through is a very different thing when it’s part of such an intractable discussion.” 

Which means that if the House fails to pass immigration reform this year, not only will an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants be no closer to gaining legalized status, not only will the Republican Party be no closer to improving its standing among the United States’ growing Latino population, but Israelis also will be no closer to the day when they can travel to the United States without applying for a visa first.

U.S. embassy issues first visas to same-sex Israeli couples

The American embassy in Tel Aviv issued its first derivative visas to same-sex Israeli couples.

The derivative visa allows the applicant to receive a visa through a spouse or first-degree relative who is eligible for residence in the United States.

The embassy on Thursday issued the visas to the same-sex spouses of two Israelis relocating to the United States on work visas. The visas were presented by Amb. Dan Shapiro and Consul General Lawrence Mire.

“We are delighted that Embassy Tel Aviv has now issued its first visas to a married same-sex couple,’ Shapiro said.  ”Gay rights are human rights, and our new visa regulations are an important step forward.”

Same-sex marriages are not performed in Israel, but marriages performed abroad are recognized.

Iranians in Canada caught using fake Israeli passports

Seven Iranians were caught using fake Israeli passports at Vancouver International Airport.

The Iranians, whose identity is unknown, were posing as the Solomons family from the central Israeli city of Rehovot, according to reports. They may have been trying to take advantage of Israelis’ ability to travel to Canada without a visa. Iranians need a visa to enter Canada.

The passports listed the Iranians’ names and ages as Mona, 48; Tomer, 40; Nadine, 15; Narin, 11; Binyamin, 9; Marin, 6; and Nermin, 5. The passports, however, contained several Hebrew errors and mismatched translations, enabling authorities to recognize them as forgeries. The passports were sent to Israel’s  Israeli Population and Immigration Authority.

Several Iranians in recent years have tried to enter various countries with fake Israeli passports.

One voice for comprehensive immigration reform

Family is the foundation of American society, and united families strengthen us as individuals and as communities. Tragically, many immigrant families remain separated for years — often decades — because of our severely broken immigration system. Bureaucratic visa delays can go on for more than 20 years before a relative can enter the United States legally. 

Every day, within our congregations and across the nation, faith leaders see the devastating consequences for those who suffer from our unfair immigration policy. As people of faith, we respect all human life and acknowledge that everyone is worthy of dignity and compassion, as reflected in Genesis 1:28, which teaches that human beings are created in the image of God.

The Torah exhorts: “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). The New Testament urges us to welcome the stranger, for “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). As a religious community, we are bound to share with others what we experience firsthand, and to shine a light on the harsh and sorrowful truth of human suffering — especially when our voice may inspire the winds of change and help bring hope and love where there is now pain and despair.

Last month, 25 clergy and community leaders participated in a study tour of the San Diego-Tijuana border to learn more about the complexities and challenges of immigration reform. Our interreligious delegation united six diverse Jewish and Christian faith communities — Episcopalian, Jewish, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ — whose bishops and judicatory heads are members of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. 

We stood at the border wall and listened to the voices of husbands separated from their wives, parents torn from their children, grandparents who yearned to hold their grandchildren once again. We toured the destitute community of Chilpancingo and felt the anguish of thousands who hope for nothing more than to reunite with their families in America. We met deportees at Casa de Los Pobres — parents and children who, by the grace of God, still smile and strum broken guitars, eager to fulfill their dreams for a brighter future. 

In our final moments in Mexico, we stood where the ocean meets the sand, before the wall that stretches into the sea, and gazed at the San Diego skyline that seemed so close. We approached a man there who was staring through the wall and pacing. Just shy of 30 years old, he had come to the United States as an infant and lived in Los Angeles his entire life. He told us of his wife and two young children still in Los Angeles, and described the nightmare that began suddenly for his family the day he was cited for driving without a license. Several days later he was arrested by immigration officials at his place of business, placed in a detention facility and eventually deported to Tijuana. He has nothing in Mexico. His deportation marked the first time he ever visited the country of his birth. He plans to risk his life and attempt an illegal journey back, to reunite with his family and once again live in the shadows of America. 

We call upon President Barack Obama and Congress to enact bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that embodies our shared values as people of faith and as Americans. Meaningful reform must include a path to earned citizenship for immigrants already in the United States, changes to family immigration laws and adjustment of quotas for future flows of immigrants, including high- and low-skilled worker visas. There must also be smart and humane enforcement measures that bolster our national security. 

Soon, Jews across the globe will join family and friends at Passover seders and retell the ancient narrative of the journey from the narrow straits of Egyptian slavery to the broad vistas of the Promised Land. Soon Christians throughout the world will celebrate the Easter holiday, with its message of hope and resurrection. This Passover and Easter, share the stories of the immigrant experience past and present. Join the Council of Religious Leaders in “One Voice for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” 

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is regional director of AJC Los Angeles and president of the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. The Rev. Felix C. Villanueva is conference minister of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Miss Israel misses U.S. event due to visa restrictions

Yityish Aynaw may have a meeting set up with President Barack Obama when he travels to Israel later this week, but getting one with a U.S. embassy employee in Tel Aviv is a more difficult task.

Israel's first beauty queen of Ethiopian Jewish descent was unable to attend a Friends of the Israel Defense Forces event in New York on March 12 because she could not get a visa on time.

“We had just three days to issue a visa,” an organizer was quoted by the Israeli news website Ynet as saying. “Bureaucratically, it was impossible.”

Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) have drafted a bill that would waive visa restrictions for Israelis, but the legislation is currently stuck because of Israel's relatively high visa rejection rate.

Israeli officials recently asked younger citizens not to travel to the U.S. unless necessary in order to reduce the rate of visa rejections.

Israeli soccer player on U.K. team barred from entering Dubai

An Israeli soccer player for a British team is sitting out a team visit to Dubai because of tensions between the emirate and Israel.

The 25-year-old striker, Itay Schechter, who plays for Swansea City, was prevented from attending the six-day group training session, The Jewish Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

The United Arab Emirates does not recognize the state of Israel and Israeli passport holders can be arrested and deported on entering without a special visa. Dubai is one of the UAE's severn emirates, or city-states.

Hamas and Dubai have accused Israel of assassinating Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai in January 2010 in a plot involving a dozen assassins using forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Germany and France, among other countries.

Schechter, who was once a victim of anti-Semitic abuse when he was given a Nazi salute during a training session, has traveled to Israel to train with his former Hapoel Tel Aviv football club ahead of a Premier League match this Sunday, the newspaper reported.

In 2009, the Dubai Tennis Championships was levied a record fine over its country's refusal to award a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe'er. She received a visa and appeared in the 2010 tournament in Dubai.

For science and U.S. jobs: Allow Israelis to visit America visa-free

The majority of Americans are supportive of Israel. Still, for good reasons, many in Jewish and pro-Israel communities are deeply anxious about both the security of Israel and the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon and maintaining U.S. support for Israel in a chaotic and dangerous Middle East will remain pillars of the pro-Israel movement.  Nonetheless, there are other goals the community should pursue that will help truly deepen our nations’ ties, promote medical solutions and help boost much-needed economic growth in America.

American–Israel cooperation in high-tech sectors, including biotechnology and medical research, green energy, defense, homeland security, and information technology have spurred countless vital joint business and research endeavors.  Too often, however, Israeli entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists have to wait for several months to get a visa to visit America.  Conferences and meetings in the medical community and private sector to promote joint innovations and ventures are made unnecessarily difficult.

Israel is currently not included from the 37 countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe as well as Australia and several Asian countries including South Korea and Japan.  Most recently, Taiwan was admitted to the program in 2012.  The citizens of these countries can visit the United States for business, tourism, or seeing friends and family for up to 90 days without a visa.  Israelis with passports can visit most of Europe, Latin America, Canada, and several other countries around the world, visa-free.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are spearheading a new bill in the House of Representatives to add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.  In a remarkable sign of support, over 30 Representatives, including many senior members, join with Sherman and Poe in introducing the legislation this week.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is introducing the same legislation in the Senate.

Congressman Sherman introduced this bill in the House last year with 13 members including lead cosponsor Congressman Poe.  34 Members cosponsored Sherman’s bill, which brought much-needed attention to this important issue.  Sherman, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship, is now spearheading an even bigger coalition on Capitol Hill to move this bill through the new 113th Congress.

There are many indicators of how breaking barriers between Israelis and Americans would enhance an already vibrant scientific and economic relationship. With a disproportionately huge number of per capita scientific papers, patents filed, and startup companies in Israel compared to the world, there is great potential for increased U.S-Israeli business initiatives to the benefit of both nations.

With increased collaborations in finding ways to stop things like Alzheimer’s, Autism and other health issues, more close contact can only mean progress on the human level. This is vital as today another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and that number will only double as the baby boomers get older.

Moreover, the CDC says that 1 out of 88 American children have Autism. Jews need to take a special interest in that area as there is a link between the age of the father and the likelihood of a child having Autism. Jews wait longer to have children than any other demographic group in America. In the waiting rooms of the top medical experts for Autism, there is a minyan of Jewish mothers waiting for help for their children.
The Israeli life sciences and biotechnology industry is growing at an astonishing rate.  A nation of 7 million, Israel has about 1,000 life science companies, hundreds of them formed within the past few years.

The Jewish state’s highly educated and savvy entrepreneurs have invested in American jobs and growth. The Israeli private sector has invested well over $50 billion in the United States since 2000.  Israeli Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States was $7.2 billion in 2010 alone.

During an April 2012 trip to Israel, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie promoted U.S.-Israeli business and signed a letter of cooperation with Teva, one of the largest, most cutting-edge pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies in the world.  Teva has hundreds of employees in New Jersey and has been offered financial incentives by that state to build more facilities and add to job growth.

It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that led Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway to make its first-ever foreign acquisition in Israel and declare that, “Israel… has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  Berkshire Hathaway purchased 80% of Iscar, an Israeli maker of precision blades and drills, in 2006.

It’s time for the U.S. to let Israeli entrepreneurs and travelers to visit our country freely.

The increased travel of Israelis to the U.S. would also help America’s tourism sector. Trips to the U.S. by Israelis totaled nearly 320,000 annually the past three years.  In 2011, Israelis spent over $1.6 billion in travel and airfare to the United States.  If Israel enters the program, closer to half a million Israelis are expected to travel to the United States per year.

With 7.8% unemployment and tepid GDP growth in the U.S., we can benefit financially from the innovation resulting from greater American-Israeli science and technology cooperation and business – as well as boosting our tourism and domestic travel sectors.

The Jewish and pro-Israel community should join with U.S. business leaders and representatives of information technology, biotechnology, medical research, defense, and other high-tech industries in backing the passage of theVisa Waiver for Israel Act into law this year.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of and the Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.

Obama enacts visa program for religious workers

President Barack Obama enacted a three-year extension to a visa program for religious workers.

Obama on Sept. 28 signed the law, passed by Congress with overwhelming margins earlier in September, extending the Special Immigrant Non-Minister Religious Worker Program until Sept. 30, 2015.

The legislation, first passed in 1990, has a built-in sunset provision and has been reauthorized seven times.

The law, which is particularly important to small Jewish communities in remote areas, makes available up to 5,000 permanent immigrant visas each year for religious workers of various denominations.

The small Jewish communities often find it difficult to fill positions and rely on the visas to bring in rabbis, cantors, kosher butchers, Hebrew school teachers and other religious workers.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)  praised the bill’s passage and its enactment, with special praise for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who led sponsorship.

“This is an important step in ensuring that the Jewish community can keep the dedicated and experienced teachers and other foreign religious workers on whom we rely,” said Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS.

Obama signs bill extending investor visa to Israelis

President Obama signed legislation that would that would add Israel to the list of countries eligible for non-immigrant investor visas in the United States.

The legislation, which was spearheaded by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), would grant Israelis E-2 investor visas, allowing them to live and work in the U.S. in order to be closer to their investments.

The legislation, signed Monday, passed the House and the Senate in recent months by wide bipartisan margins.

Seventy-nine countries are party to longstanding treaties with the United States that allow their citizens to apply for E-2 status.

Senate unanimously approves E-2 visas for Israeli investors

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill allowing Israeli investors to reside here to oversee their businesses in this country, which backers say will spur job creation and economic growth.

The bill had unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 19 and now heads to President Obama for his signature.

The measure added Israel to the list of countries eligible for E-2 investor visas. Once signed into law by President Obama, as expected, the bill will put Israel on a list with more than 79 other countries whose citizens are eligible for the visas.

The visas are temporary documents available to foreign nationals who must be a national of a country with which the United States has a treaty. To qualify, the applicant must come to the U.S. to develop and direct the operations of a business in which he or she has invested, or is in the process of investing. The visas allow the investors and business leaders to reside in the United States to oversee their operations here.

Bilateral trade between the two countries hit $36.9 billion in 2011 and Israel is among the U.S.’s 10 largest export markets per capita.

House committee backs visa bill for Israeli investors

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would add Israel to the list of countries eligible for non-immigrant investor visas in the United States.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and approved Feb. 28 by the House of Representatives committee in a voice vote, would grant Israelis the ability to acquire the E-2 visa if similarly situated U.S. nationals are eligible for non-immigrant visas in Israel. The E-2 visa permits Israeli investors to live and work in the United States in order to be closer to their investments.

“We should be doing everything we can to bring additional Israeli innovations and technologies to the United States,” Berman, who is the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in his remarks before the Judiciary Committee vote. “Israel is a global leader in security and defense technologies, medicine, agriculture, high-tech, and clean energy advancements. Our nation will benefit from bringing their business to our shores.”

The House bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Judiciary Immigration Policy Subcommittee.

Gaza visitors must obtain visa from Hamas

Foreign visitors to Gaza must now get a visa from the ruling Hamas organization.

Visitors can apply for the visa online or through a local sponsor, The Associated Press reported.

Activists and aid workers will be most affected by the new rules, which go into effect Sunday, according to information posted Sunday on a Hamas website.

The visa will be good for a month. Journalists will have separate, as yet unpublished, requirements.

The new rules could make it difficult for some foreign aid workers to enter the coastal strip, since governments such as the United States, as well as the European Union, have classified Hamas as a terrorist organization and prohibit contact with the group.

Ten years later, terrorists still using immigration loopholes

Terrorism and U.S. immigration policies are closely linked. We have made some progress since terrorists killed 3,000 innocent people in New York and Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, but clearly not enough.

All 19 of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country with valid visas. All had backgrounds that should have excluded them from getting visas. Yet 10 years later, the United States still does not conduct extensive screening in many countries with terrorist activities. The United States also still gives random visas through a lottery system rife with fraud.

Congress needs to change these policies. Terrorists have taken advantage of our lax immigration system several times since 9/11.

Currently, the United States only operates the Visa Security Program in 19 high-risk consular posts. The Secure Visas Act, of which I am an original cosponsor, would expand the Visa Security Program to provide more extensive screening in high-risk countries.

According to the Government Accountability Office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not implemented its five-year expansion plan or even covered all high-risk posts. The Secure Visas Act would require Visa Security Units to be maintained at the 19 consular posts that already have them and expand these units to the posts that ICE has designated as “highest-risk.”

Some of these “highest-risk” countries include Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, and Algeria. VSUs are critical for national security: At VSU-staffed consular posts, 100 percent of applicants receive additional screening; at non-VSU posts, fewer than 2 percent of the applicants get extra screening.

The Secure Visas Act also would make it easier to revoke a visa.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and kill over 200 innocent people on December 25, 2009, refocused attention on the responsibilities of the Departments of State and Homeland Security with respect to visa revocation.

Abdulmutallab was traveling on a valid visa issued to him in June 2008. The State Department acknowledged that his father came into the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19, 2009, and told State Department and CIA officials that his son had vanished and expressed concern that he had “fallen under the influence of religious extremists in Yemen.” According to news reports, the father’s visit with the U.S. authorities was arranged by Nigerian intelligence officials, who his father had contacted after receiving a call from his son that made him fear that his son might be planning a suicide mission in Yemen.

Despite the father’s visit and the warning he conveyed, the State Department made no effort to revoke the visa.

The case of Abdulmutallab demonstrates that clearly, we need a way to quickly revoke a visa.

I am also an original cosponsor of the SAFE for America Act, which would eliminate the visa lottery program, under which 50,000 individuals a year are chosen completely at random to receive immigrant visas.

The visa lottery, first implemented in Fiscal Year 1995, has long been a subject of concern for those of us who believe it important to have a credible immigration system. The program is riddled with fraud. The State Department’s Inspector General said so in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The Government Accountability Office said so in 2007. During a congressional hearing I chaired in April, we learned that it continues today.

Fraud is a concern because terrorists have already used the visa lottery as a means of entering this country. In fact, the Egyptian terrorist who murdered two Americans at LAX in 2002 was a diversity visa recipient after his wife was selected for the lottery.

In addition, a Pakistani national who received a diversity visa when his parents were selected for the lottery, pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiring to wage jihad by plotting to destroy electrical power stations, the Israeli consulate, and other South Florida targets. He had reportedly told his friends that he wanted to wage war against the United States.

U.S. immigration policy should be based on something more than just luck of the draw.

We will never forget Sept. 11, 2001, or the people who perished in that wanton act of terrorism. We need to strengthen our immigration procedures so it makes it harder for terrorists to attack us again on American soil.

Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in Congress and is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement and Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sion Ebrahami: I was taken hostage by the moujahadeen

If you ask retired Iranian Jewish accountant and author Simon “Sion” Ebrahimi about being held hostage for many months in his office in Tehran during the Iranian revolution, he will tell you the circumstances were a sort of a tragic comedy. Ebrahimi’s office was located across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

In November 1979, when the embassy was taken over by armed revolutionary thugs, Ebrahimi and his partners were also held hostage inside their offices by his armed employees. Now 70 and residing in Los Angeles, Ebrahimi is penning a fictional, multigenerational family saga loosely based on his family’s life in Iran. He talked recently about his experiences as a captive.

Jewish Journal: Can you give some background into your accounting firm in Iran and the circumstances that led up to your being taken hostage?

Simon Ebrahimi: Before the revolution, I was a partner of the largest international CPA firm in Iran, where the employees with excellent performance records would qualify to become a partner of the firm. At the time, we had over 500 employees.

Since all partners came from the employees’ pool, we worked in a close, friendly environment. I always had an open-door policy with my staff. The same bonding was there, even if you became a partner.

At the time, I had nine British and American partners and five Iranians of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. They included Muslims, Jews, Assyrians and Armenians.

As clients were both major corporations with international affiliations and also Iranian government institutions, I knew and worked with people at a very high echelon of the private and the government levels.

With the early signs of the revolution in 1978, the staff went on a sitting strike, and as the situation culminated into the takeover of the American Embassy compound and hostage-taking — which I was an eyewitness to. Since our office was facing the embassy, this stimulated our staff more, and soon my partners and I were taken hostage. This situation paralyzed the firm.

With them not going to work, the cash flow started getting messed up. What they were demanding from us was to terminate them all, pay them a termination compensation of $20 million, then re-hire them. Where was the money that we didn’t have going to come from, we asked? ‘Your hidden bank accounts in Israel and America!’ they responded.

JJ: Who were the people that took you hostage?

SE: With the passage of time, we realized that these people were from three factions within the firm, which included the Mojahedeen faction, the communist faction and there were the very fanatic pro-Khomeini faction.

And we had a few people who were still loyal to us and gave us inside information as to how these people were confronting one another. As the unrest escalated and Khomeini ended up coming to Iran, with the hostage situation happening in the embassy, my partners and I were also taken hostage by my employees.

JJ: Typically, people are terrified when they are taken hostage. What did you find humorous about the incident?

SE: The comedy side of this whole thing was more appealing to me than the tragic side, because these were not ordinary factory workers who would put the factory owners in a dark room and threaten to kill them. We had our breakfast, our kebab for lunch and our dinners; they were very polite — it was dead crazy!

But we were not allowed to go home. They assigned each partner a guard, which came from the employee pool. They said, ‘Please don’t go home tonight, because we are thinking of coming up with an answer to your end of the bargain’ — and we knew then that we were hostages.

Then they came to our offices and told us, ‘Please don’t go home.’ They were very nice, polite, civilized — but sons of bitches!

JJ: How did you eventually extricate yourself from this hostage situation?

SE: So here I am in the middle of the hostage-taking, sitting in my office, and one of my clients, a major subsidiary of the French government, calls me. The guy was my connection, and he asked me what was happening with his case.

I thought this was a God-given thing, because they owed us somewhere around $60,000. So I asked my client to come over to Tehran, and he said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you kidding me? Why don’t you come here?’ I said OK, and he agreed to give me the check when I came to France.

By then, my office was being run by a revolutionary committee, which was comprised of my own driver and a few other hoodlums. I called the revolutionary committee into my office and told them my clients have called me to Paris, and I was going to get the $60,000.

Now the office was in a financial mess; no one was paying their salaries, and $60,000 was a ton of money at that time in Iran. My driver — a revolutionary committee member — said, ‘I think he’s going to escape.’

And then I told my captors, ‘Get the hell out of my office; make up your mind, then come back and tell me if you want me to go and get you $60,000!’ Of course, the latter part of my cry worked.

They returned and asked what guarantees I could give them that I would not escape. I said, ‘My family is here; I have no intention of escaping,’ and they agreed to remove my name from the black list — the list of people who were forbidden to leave the country.

I called my client and asked him for a visa. Fortunately, I had my whole family on one passport, and he arranged for a six-month visa to France. After three days of work in Paris in September of 1980, I returned to Tehran with the check, and these people were celebrating the mighty dollars and distributing it amongst themselves.

I had already packed up a few suitcases. I grabbed my family, jumped on a plane and escaped to France. The fortunate thing was that they had forgotten to blacklist me again. We came to France, we applied for a visa to come to America and eventually made it here.

Escape, exile, rebirth: Iranian Jewish diaspora alive and well in Los Angeles

Thirty years have passed since the massive and violent demonstrations against the Shah of Iran that began in September 1978, and for many, the start of that country’s bloody revolution might seem a faded memory. Yet I have carried those shattering events with me all of my life: I was born on in Tehran on Sept. 11, 1978, as chaos unfolded on the streets outside.

For Americans, Sept. 11 has its own painful history, but for me, that day each year has always been, as well, a reminder of another horrific tragedy: Sept. 9 to Sept. 11, 1978, were among the first and most brutal days of a revolution in Iran that would result, among many upheavals, in the uprooting of the country’s ancient and once-thriving Jewish population.

My family’s story is no different from that of thousands of other Jews who fled Iran during and after the revolution, many of whom now live in Southern California, New York, Israel and elsewhere worldwide — the Iranian Jewish diaspora.

While scholars have since debated the true cause of the revolution, it is well known that the massive public protests for “greater freedoms” and strikes crippled Iran’s economy. Violence between the protesters and police erupted in Iran’s capital in January 1978 and intensified later in the year.

These activities eventually resulted in the collapse of the government led by the shah, who fled Iran on Jan. 20, 1979. On Feb. 1, 1979, the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran, quickly dissolved the monarchy and shortly thereafter established a new fundamentalist Islamic state government.

The new theocratic regime eliminated practically overnight many of the freedoms and civil liberties once taken for granted by Iranians — including the country’s Jews, who under the shah’s reign had experienced one of the greatest periods of peace and prosperity in their long history in the region.

A day perhaps best remembered in the United States is Nov. 4, 1979, when regime operatives took over the American Embassy in Tehran and held captive 52 Americans in a reign of terror that would last for 444 days — the rationale for this act, in part, was retaliation against the U.S. government, which had granted the exiled shah permission to be treated for cancer in America.

The new regime’s henchmen also quickly executed several prominent Jewish community leaders, accusing them of sympathizing with the fallen monarchy or “spying for Israel and America.” For fear of what calamity might befall them, many Jewish families rushed to abandon their homes and businesses and fled the country — often under cover of night. Others lost everything they owned, as millions of dollars in assets were confiscated by the new fundamentalist Islamist Iranian government.

Under the shah’s rule, Iran’s Jews, as well as other religious minorities in Iran, had become accustomed to being treated with respect, albeit as separate, distinct cultures. Now they were second-class citizens, and the atmosphere of hostility led thousands of them to flee the country.

Looking back, the trauma of that flight has left deep wounds within my community. Many Iranian Jews continue to live in disbelief at what transpired.

“It was unbelievable, unfathomable for us Jews to believe anything would happen to us in Iran because of the incredible power of shah and his government,” Ebrahim Yahid, a local Iranian Jewish activist, now in his 80s, told me in a recent interview. “Nobody in our community believed of the calamity we would face under the new regime of Khoemini.”

Jewish flight from Iran began in earnest, most community members agree, in May 1979, when the new regime’s revolutionary guard executed 66-year-old “Haji” Habib Elghanian, a philanthropist and the leader of Iran’s Jewish community. Elghanian’s younger brother, Sion, who now lives in Los Angeles, recently spoke to me about his brother’s execution, the first time he has spoken publicly about it.

“Haji was in America, and 10 to 15 days before Khomeini returned to Iran, he returned to Iran,” said Sion Elghanian, who is now retired and in his late 80s.

The older Elghanian had been in the United States temporarily, hoping to weather the chaos of the early days of unrest, which had brought the country to a standstill through nationwide strikes.

It was expected that Habib Elghanian might become a target, because he was the wealthiest Jew in Iran and the leader of Iran’s Jews.

“Everyone, including the late Israeli Prime Minister Begin, asked him not to return to Iran, but he said, ‘I was born in Iran, I love my country, I have treated all Iranians — Muslims and Jews alike — with compassion, and I have not done anything illegal,'” his younger brother remembered.

The Islamic regime arrested Habib Elghanian on Feb. 17, 1979, and falsely charged him with being a Zionist spy, along with other trumped-up charges of treason against the state. He was executed on May 9, 1979, after a sham trial by the revolutionary Islamic court, which lasted just over an hour and consisted merely of a proclamation of the verdict, without presenting any real evidence. While he was in prison, family members and friends were able to get some messages to him and receive his replies.

“Haji knew that they were going to kill him,” Sion Elghanian said. “Before he was executed, he requested that that he be given his tallit and kippah to wear. He recited the ‘Shema’ … and then they shot him by a firing squad.

“Afterward, Iran’s Jews were in total shock and grief,” his brother told me. “We told him [Elghanian] that we wanted to arrange to have him sprung from jail in an escape, but he told us not to go forward with it, as the move might motivate the Islamic leaders of Iran to retaliate by executing thousands of Jews living in the country.”

Sion Elghanian said that he respects his brother’s wishes not to be sprung from jail and feels that the family did all that they could to rescue and save him. He views his brother as a hero who sacrificed himself for the good of the community.

Final aliyah flight leaves Ethiopia for Israel, U.S. revokes Fulbright winners’ visas

Last Ethiopian Airlift Heads to Israel

The last official airlift of Ethiopian Jews was scheduled to land in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, bringing to an end a state-organized campaign that began nearly 30 years ago and brought in some 120,000 immigrants from the east African nation.

The Jewish Agency for Israel said its emissary to Addis Ababa had been recalled, though Jerusalem officials could still be sent out to help an estimated 1,400 Ethiopian crypto-Jews, apply to immigrate as part of efforts to reunite them with relatives already in Israel.

“But we will no longer be seeing anything on the scale of Operation Moses or Operation Solomon,” Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski told Israel Radio, alluding to major missions to bring in Ethiopians by air and sea in the 1980s.

He called on the government to reinvest its energies in helping the Ethiopian community in Israel, many of whose members live in poverty and complain of inadequate social integration.

U.S. Revokes Visas for Palestinian Fulbrights

The United States revoked the entry visas of three Palestinian students who won Fulbright scholarships.

The State Department announced Monday that the three Gazans would not be admitted to the United States after “new information” was received about them. U.S. officials declined to give further details.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came out in support of the three Fulbright scholars after Israel, citing security concerns, refused to give them permits to leave the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Four other Palestinians who won Fulbrights were allowed to leave Gaza.

Israel ‘Knows’ Where Shalit Held

Israel knows where Gilad Shalit is being held captive, the Israeli armed forces chief said.

“We know who is holding Shalit, and where,” Israel Radio quoted Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as saying Monday in an address to new military draftees.

The remarks stirred speculation that Israel could be preparing an operation to rescue Shalit, a tank crewman who was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen in June 2006 and has been kept mostly incommunicado since.

But Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter told the radio station that there has been no change in Israel’s intelligence gathering on Shalit or policy of holding Egyptian-brokered negotiations on his return.

Hamas has demanded that Israel free hundreds of jailed Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Shalit, but Jerusalem has balked at the asymmetry of the proposed swap. Israel Radio quoted Ashkenazi as saying that retrieving Shalit is crucial so that all those serving the Jewish state know they will not be abandoned on the battlefield.

Israeli Family Leaves Girl, 3, at Airport

A 3-year-old girl was found wandering at Ben-Gurion International Airport after the rest of her family boarded a plane to Paris.

Police accompanied the girl to the boarding gate but the plane already had taken off with her parents and four siblings aboard. The girl was flown to Paris later Sunday, and her family met her at the airport.

Police will question the parents upon their return to Israel.

Last week, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that an 8-year-old boy traveling alone was flown by El Al Israel Airlines from Ben-Gurion Airport to Brussels instead of to his destination in Munich.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

More Information on Getting That Visa

Visa Violations

The U.S. government estimates that about 40 percent of people who are in this country illegally arrived on a legal visa but lost their legal status either by overstaying or otherwise violating the terms of their visa. These are sometimes referred to as “nonimmigrant overstayers.”

Nonimmigrant overstayers include those who came here on a student visa (F-1 or M-1 visa, depending on the type of studies pursued) or their family’s visa (F-2 or M-2). Others come on a tourist visa (B-2) or temporary business visa (B-1).

Another visa commonly used by nonimmigrant overstayers is the H-series visa (H-1, H-2, etc.), which permits those with specialty occupations to enter the country, as well as their families, who enter with an H-4 visa. Another visa commonly used is the R-1, those permitted to enter the United States as “religious workers” and their spouses and children, who enter with an R-2 visa.

All of the above-cited visas are violated if the bearers remain in the United States in a different status from that stipulated in the visa, or if they stay beyond the valid period.

Aid for Those Who Overstay

There are a number of agencies that can help people who are here illegally and would like to talk with someone without fear of being arrested or deported.

Here is a partial list:

  • HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, offers a variety of services and acts as advocates for migrants’ rights. Their main office is in New York, 333 Seventh Ave., 16th floor, New York, NY 10001-5004. (212) 967-4100, (212) 613-1409 or (800) 442-714.
  • In Southern California, Public Counsel has a program called Immigrants’ Rights Project, which offers a variety of services. Public Counsel, P.O. Box 76900, Los Angeles, CA 90076. (213) 385-2977. Their office is located at 610 Ardmore Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005, and their phone number at that office is (213) 385-9089. They accept appointments only, no walk-ins.
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) offers a variety of services. They are located at 5228 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90022. For more information, call (213) 640-3883 or visit
  • The American Civil Liberties Union also offers aid at 1616 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026. (213) 977-9500.

There are also many private attorneys and legal firms that offer services to those in this situation. L.A. newspapers in Spanish, Hebrew, Russian and other languages all have ads for immigration attorneys who are experienced in dealing with cases involving nonimmigrant overstayers and other immigrant issues.

U.S. Immigration Issue Hits Israelis

These days, so much depends upon language. One person’s “civil war” is another’s “random violence.” Someone’s “unlawful wiretapping” is someone else’s “terrorist surveillance.”

In that sense, whether you use “illegal aliens” or “undocumented residents” partly depends on how you view immigration. But whatever your political attitude, if you think that every illegal/undocumented came into the United States guided by a coyote, then think again.

What about those who came here on a legal but restricted visa, then violated its terms? That’s too long for a demonstration placard, but it describes the status of an unknown number of Jews now living in the United States.

Some entered the country as students or tourists, then simply stayed. And then once here, they violated the restrictions of their status, often by working. These people, too, are illegal/undocumented, and they undoubtedly include a number of Israelis, as well as Jews from the former Soviet Union and Latin America.

In January 2006, the Department of Homeland Security published the 2004 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the most recent government document on immigration data.

During fiscal year 2004, authorities found 290 “deportable aliens” from Israel. In that same year, an additional 183 Israeli aliens were removed from the United States and an additional 67 Israelis were under “docket control”: ordered to depart the United States.

That means that in 2004 alone, 540 Israelis were located, deported or about to be deported. It stands to reason that there are a great many more Israelis living in the United States, and in Los Angels, who are here illegally but have not been located by authorities.

The Israeli consulate will not give out information on how many Israelis they calculate may be in Los Angels illegally, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of their presence: for example, ads for immigration attorneys in local Hebrew-language publications and Web sites.

Though Jews comprise a very small part of the millions of people who are in the United States illegally, those who are will likely be affected by the proposed revisions in immigration legislation, just as they’ve been affected by changes in security policy since Sept. 11.

Gideon Aronoff, chairman and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), said that what is needed is “to expand people’s attitudes about illegal immigration. As I understand it, something like 40 percent of the illegal immigration into the United States is composed of people who came here on a legitimate tourist or student visa, overstayed the period of the visa, and then remained here, working.” He said that though he does not have exact numbers, that percentage “would certainly include Israelis, as well as Jews from the former Soviet Union and from South America. A smarter and fairer immigration policy would also impact Jews.”

However, Aronoff said that HIAS is not focused only on helping Jews.

“Our interest in good immigration policy is part of our collective mandate to help other communities that we are connected to, and work closely with, such as the Latino community, and by this work to express our humanitarian values,” he said. “Sane immigration policy would mean finding a way of dealing with this issue through a compassionate change in our laws, rather than by using … law enforcement agencies to arrest those at the lowest rung of the economic ladder, like busboys and farm workers.”

Aronoff pointed out that if we go back a couple of generations, some of our ancestors came to the United States under circumstances that were somewhat muddy, legally speaking.

“That’s something we shouldn’t forget,” he said.

Roberto Loiederman is a screenwriter and co-author of “The Eagle Mutiny” (Naval Institute Press, 2001).

Time to Go Home


When my wife and I woke up on the day we made aliyah, we talked and decided that we felt good. Natural. Normal. A little excited. A bit eager. Somewhat tired from some late-night, last-minute packing. Above all, we were ready. It was time to go.

The family dressed in T-shirts that we had made for the day. The white shirts were emblazoned in blue with our Hebrew slogan for the trip: “Bashana Hazot,” which in English means “this year.”

Our shirts were inspired from the central motto of the Jewish people: “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Thanks to some terrific support from friends and family, “Next Year” was now.

We had been staying with my parents, who could not have been more encouraging and supportive, for a last precious drop of a week with them. We will next see them in three months, at our new home, in Israel.

At LAX, our porter saw the boxes we were sending, asked a polite question or two and soon knew that we were moving. Before he left us, he said something very formally in Gaelic, which he translated as: “Have a safe trip home.”

Once at the gate, my 4-year-old saw the El Al plane with the giant Jewish star on the tail. He yelled: “Abba, that’s a Israel plane.” Exactly.

As the plane thundered down the runway, my wife looked a question: “Can you believe this is happening?”

I smiled and shook my head from side to side.

Like all flights to Israel, this one lasted a long time, but it did not end until I filled out the Israeli visa entry forms. Under reason for visit, I wrote, “Aliyah.” Under planned departure date, I wrote, “None.”

As we approached Israel, we dropped through a storm. Our 4-year-old saw a rainbow. I held my wife’s hand.

When we crossed over the Tel Aviv coastline, I experienced a flurry of emotions, which were magnified by a sense that this return was final.

I felt a great, humbling appreciation that I was now doing what so many of my ancestors had wished to do for thousands of years. I thought of the millions of Jews who had prayed to God for the existence of a Jewish state in Israel. I was grateful for the sacrifices of the early Zionists, who took sand and mosquitoes and made milk and honey. I considered the multitudes of people, both in America and around the world, who have prayed and worked for Israel’s safety. I recalled all of our friends and family who wished us the absolute best. And, I understood that the thoughts, prayers, dreams and hopes of all those people, going back all those years, were with us, right at that moment, right at that single point in our lives. It was overwhelming.

When our plane landed, my wife and I said the “Shecheyanu” blessing, and thanked God for allowing us to reach this day.

As we entered the terminal, we were met by a smiling official from the Ministry of Interior, who was holding a big blue and white welcome sign, and a volunteer who had previously made aliyah from the United States.

At the airport office of the Ministry of Interior, the kids got candy, flags and pins, and the parents got a new-immigrant identity card called a Teudat Oleh. My cousins brought us not one, but two cakes welcoming us to Israel and drove us to our new home.

As we left the airport, some 26 hours after our day had begun, our boys tried to imitate Hebrew. They laughed as they babbled together: “Cha-cha-cha, cha-moosh, cha-cha-cha.”

They sounded just great.

Nathan D. Wirtschafter lives in Rehovot, Israel.