Shame on the US Consulate in Jerusalem
Last week, as Jews the world over were preparing for the Day of Atonement by issuing apologies to anyone they may have wronged during the year, I was trying to solve a personal problem that could have turned into a national-security incident.
The tale of woe surrounded an upcoming family reunion to celebrate my parents’ 60th anniversary. It was to be an “ingathering of exiles” – the flying in of siblings, spouses, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to New York for a party at a baby-friendly restaurant. Before the plan was hatched – and members of the immediate clan began to search for temporary dwellings a bit more upscale than those erected for Sukkot – I was already scheduled to spend a few weeks in the Big Apple. By the time I arrived from Tel Aviv, most of the arrangements had been made. Flights were booked and places to stay were found for my Israeli kids and their American cousins, dispersed across the US.
During the week before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, I received a call from my son and his wife – who live on a moshav outside Jerusalem — informing me that their baby’s passport went missing and that if it didn’t turn up within two days, they would have to cancel their trip altogether. As the son of a dual citizen and an Israeli with a long-term US visa, the baby was granted a visa with no difficulty. But it had to be attached to his Israeli passport, which was to remain at the consulate until delivered by courier a couple of days later.
When the document did not arrive, the couple contacted the consulate. They were told by an extremely impatient clerk that it had left the premises and should be at the central post office in Jerusalem, from where a courier should have picked it up and brought it to their home. “It’s no longer in our hands and it is not our responsibility,” the clerk said.
So my son went the post office, where what he described as “incredibly concerned and helpful staff” searched with him through the day’s satchel of passports from the US Consulate. But to no avail. For days, he alternately phoned the consulate and went to the post office in a desperate attempt to locate the passport.
Nor was my son the only Israeli frantically scouring bags full of passports at the post office. Many others were involved in the same activity, after being told by consulate staff to buzz off. Some literally wept at the entrance to the consulate, begging for someone simply to check to see if perhaps an error was made, and the passports were still there. Several of these people were forced to cancel their booked and paid-for vacations, as consulate employees disregarded their pleas.
One such employee even sent a security guard to get rid of my son, when he said he wouldn’t leave until he got some answers.
An appeal to a connection at the US Embassy was equally fruitless, though for a different reason. “Oh, we can’t deal with those people at the consulate in Jerusalem,” an Embassy staffer revealed. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Finally, after pressure from a former administration official in Washington and repeated phone calls from the post office to the consulate, the missing bagful of passports was located – in the consulate building, right where my son and everybody else assumed they were all along.
No apology was forthcoming, nor money reimbursed to all those who had already canceled their trips. An excuse was provided, however. According to a consular official, the bag of passports in question had gotten lost in the building, because on the day that it was supposed to have been sent out, the traffic jams in the city – due to the funeral of elder Israeli statesman Shimon Peres – had made it impossible for the mail to go out.
Prior to this discovery, I was not only devastated at the thought that part of my family would be prevented from coming to the party; I was also deeply concerned about the broader implication of a bunch of Israeli passports, with U.S. visas attached, either stolen by terrorists or found by them. I couldn’t understand why this frightening possibility hadn’t occurred to anyone at the consulate. Indeed, how could its staff be so lazy and hostile as to ignore the potential repercussions of such a scenario?
On Wednesday night, as my grandson and his relieved parents boarded a plane at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported that three Iranian nationals using forged Israeli passports were apprehended in Italy and deported to Turkey. Israeli security officials are now investigating the possible connection of this incident to previous global jihadist attacks.
In January, a married Iranian couple was arrested in India for allegedly using fake Israeli passports with which to try to immigrate to the US. Two years earlier, two Iranians were imprisoned for attempting to enter Kenya with fake Israeli passports.
In all of the above cases, the documents used were forged. One shudders to imagine what could have happened if a batch of genuine ones – equipped with US visas — had fallen into the wrong hands.
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.