By Einat Wilf August 14, 2005
Israel’s Ministries of Finance and Tourism have announced their intention to enact an “open skies” policy with respect to air travel. This policy would ease restrictions on foreign airlines wishing to offer flights to Israel.
The move should lead to dramatic reductions in the prices of flights into and out of Israel, and allow Israel to enjoy the benefits of cheap air travel. Ideally, the proposal should go even further, and remove all restrictions, except those related to security and safety, on air operators traveling to Israel.
This may appear like a technical proposal, designed, at most, to boost tourism to Israel.
In reality, it is probably one of the best things the government of Israel can do for Zionism and the Jewish people.
The age of aliya, as previously conceived as the full and permanent physical relocation of a person to Israel, is over.
While individuals will continue to immigrate to Israel, the future of Israel lies with opening up new forms of “partial aliya” and new ways for Jews from around the world to engage with Israel and its people. Cheap communications, the internet, e-mail are creating new opportunities.
Cheap air travel is critical to complete the picture.
For Jews wishing to link their lives with Israel, few real options exist. Making aliya and giving money are limited answers. Most Jews have no intention of making aliya, and very few Jews can afford to contribute the kind of sums that grant one standing in today’s Jewish organizations.
A Jew making aliya need only buy a single one-way ticket. For him, it does not matter much if the ticket costs $100 or $1000. For a young Jewish doctor wishing to continue living in her home country, but who would like to have a closer connection with Israel by coming here every summer to work at one of Israel’s hospitals, the price of flights matters a lot.
For the vast majority of Jews living outside Israel, including former Israelis, new ways must be created to allow them to contribute their talents and energies to Israel, and to link their lives with it.
We are living in an age where the human mind is the source of wealth, so it is of the utmost importance that the best teachers, doctors, engineers, scientists, artists, writers, have an opportunity to contribute their skills and knowledge to Israel.
Cheaper flights would be a boon to numerous programs linked with Israel, and provide new ways of engaging with Israel.
For example, the Birthright program could be expanded and extended with cheaper flights. The idea of having a second home in Israel might gain greater currency if Jews in Europe could fly round-trip to Israel for less than $100, or if Jews from New York could fly to Israel for the same price as flying to the West Coast.
Jews from Europe could even consider moving to Israel, while keeping their job in Europe, or vice versa.
The availability of cheaper flights could also expand the opportunities available to Israelis to work abroad while continuing to live in Israel, and it would serve Israel’s growth industries by lowering a major cost to the operation of exporting hi-tech and industrial companies headquartered in Israel.
An Open Skies policy is in the interest of the Jewish people as much as it is in the interest of Israel. While this may not be perceived as a traditional matter of concern for Jewish organizations, there are few policies that can be enacted right now that may have greater impact on how Israel and the Jewish people interact.
This is not just an Israeli domestic issue. It is a Jewish issue. Jewish organizations must make their voices heard in support of this policy. And should we succeed in seeing this policy through, perhaps we can all wish each other “to next year in Jerusalem” – for less than $100.