- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

TEL AVIV Dozens of Israelis, holding relatives' faded birth certificates and speaking a few choppy words of Polish, line up daily at the Polish Embassy to reclaim the citizenship their parents and grandparents lost after fleeing wartime Europe.
Thousands of others are doing the same at German, Czech, Hungarian and other embassies in Tel Aviv. They're not rushing to settle in Europe, but want to obtain a second passport as an insurance policy in troubled times. Worries about Israel's future have been fueled by more than two years of fighting with the Palestinians.
Some see the lines outside the European embassies as a bad omen. "It is an indication that people don't fully believe in the future of this country," said Israeli author Tom Segev.
For decades, leaving Israel or applying for a foreign passport was spoken about in whispers. Over the years, tens of thousands of Israelis did move abroad, but they were once widely scorned.
To many, Zionism was a sort of civil religion that spurred them to sacrifice to build a nation in the biblical land from which the Jews were exiled 2,000 years ago. During the 1990s, it appeared to many as if the goal of peace and prosperity, as well as acceptance by the Arab world, was within reach. Such hopes have receded, and Zionist passions have thinned, too. Those applying for a second passport are open about it.
More than 2,300 Israelis sought German citizenship in 2002, more than double the figure of a year before. At the Polish Embassy, which used to handle a few dozen citizenship applications a year, as many as 400 people have showed up in a single day. Inquiries about Czech citizenship are up 75 percent.
With part of Europe's formerly communist east joining the European Union, Israelis who reclaim citizenship in countries such as Poland will soon be able to freely work and study throughout the continent.
That is an attractive prospect in a country where hundreds have been killed in terror attacks in about two years, and the standard of living, which had approached Western European levels, is in decline.
Gili Regev, whose grandmother was a Holocaust survivor from Poland, said Israelis sacrificed for decades in hopes of something better, but now "the belief that things would change is weakening." Mr. Regev, who lost his high-tech job, said that "people are trying to figure out ways to have insurance."
Oz Almog, a sociologist at Haifa University and author of a new book on the weakening of Zionism, believes the emigration of even just a few thousand of Israel's educated elite could threaten the country.
"You don't need a majority of the population to emigrate for this country to disappear," Mr. Almog said. "You need a very small layer of the most capable, the ones who lead, provide. That's what I'm afraid of."
Some say the level of despair in Israel rivals that of the eve of the 1967 Mideast war, when the young country faced political, economic and military collapse as Arab armies massed on its borders.
A man standing outside the Polish Embassy said if his parents were still alive, he probably wouldn't apply for a Polish passport out of worry it would stir painful memories of the anti-Semitism they endured there.
Polish Ambassador Maciej Kozlowski said a revival of Jewish heritage after the collapse of communism has helped some to cross those emotional thresholds.
"For many people, Poland is a synonym of 'Holocaust,'" he said. "They regard Poland more as a graveyard of the Jewish nation. To get out of this feeling is emotionally strenuous."

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