One of the interesting phenomena of being a healthcare advocate is the unique position of being yelled at, a lot, by many types of people. The other day was no different. The director of a bituach leumi branch, in response to my persistence in trying to help a client who had been rejected by bituach leumi [National Insurance], kept telling me that I was harassing everyone, and should stop bombarding him with faxes, e-mails, and phone calls. “It’s not how it works.” He told me. “That doesn’t get things done.” I wondered what country he was living in. Especially since the only reason he was calling me was because of my constant phone calls to his office and the main administration.
The story had actually begun six months earlier, when I was contacted by a woman with a chronic illness, who, after living 20 years abroad, was ready to return to Israel, with the company of her teenage child. She knew there was a six month waiting period till she would be eligible for bituach leumi rights, including national healthcare coverage, and she also knew that if she paid an 11,000 NIS fine, she would be able to claim those rights immediately. She visited the Jewish Agency, who confirmed this process, sold her car, organized her affairs, and purchased a one-way ticket to Israel.
She contacted me two weeks later, distraught, saying that bituach leumi had rejected her claim, stating that she had only returned to Israel for medical care and she was therefore not eligible for immediate insurance. There was no mention of returning the 11,000 NIS she had paid.
The ironic thing is that one week before, I had been contacted by another returnee, a 70-year-old man in poor health, who was returning to live closer to his children, who also paid the 11,000 NIS fine, and was also rejected.
My first call was to the Patient Rights Organization. After all, these were ill people whose medical rights were being denied. His first question to me was, “well, why did she leave in the first place?” His second question was, “well I can see where the government may be taken aback. After all, there are lots of people who come here just to get medical help and then leave.”
Wow. I hadn’t expected that. After speaking to many native-born Israelis in several ‘Help’ organizations, I was no longer surprised. In Israel, we have the Law of Return for Jews. If you can prove you are a Jew, and you want to live in Israel, you can become a citizen on the plane. It doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what you are going to contribute to this country. That is the law.
If you are an Israeli citizen but have lived outside of the country for more than a few years before returning, you must demonstrate that the “center of your life” is again Israel, then you have to wait six months before receiving benefits. But who determines that Israel is the center of your life again? Are there specific lists? No, just suggestions. Who determines this? The clerk at the bituach leumi office!
Yet, when I have contacted office after office, no one seems terribly concerned about this oversight in the law. “Well, there are a lot of people coming here only for the medical services,” is a line I have now received often, despite the fact that there is very little evidence of that, on any large scale. I feel like this is the ‘welfare mother’ excuse that I grew up with in the 80’s. All those teenagers getting pregnant over and over again just so they could reap the welfare money awards. I worked with those girls for several years in North Philly; they were not wealthy and they were not having babies to get welfare. Trust me.
I feel like the immigration panic that has swept Europe and the U.S. is making its Israeli debut. The fear that all these Israeli citizens(!), are returning to Israel to milk it of its healthcare and then, after sucking it dry, will abandon the country to return to their other homeland. This is baseless, fear-based fodder, and I find it disturbing that it is being used to keep Jews from coming back to Israel.
If you know anyone in journalism or social media, I’d be happy if you could help spread the word and assist these returning citizens to get the rights that they, just like us, they are entitled to.