- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

TEL AVIV — Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood, the Polish Embassy building has become a site of pilgrimage for a growing tide of Israelis who are seeking to reclaim what under Polish law is their birthright.

Almost a year after Poland became part of the European Union last May, thousands of Israelis are eyeing the homeland of their parents and grandparents as a ticket to sharing in the prosperity of the new Europe.

Some just want the convenience of traveling on the Continent as an EU citizen. But others covet the economic and legal benefits to help them build careers and businesses.

For students, it could mean free tuition at internationally recognized universities. For businesspeople, citizenship means valuable access to a foreign market.

Polish Jewish immigrants streamed to Palestine before and after World War II, and more than 1 million Israelis could be eligible for Polish citizenship. But the bureaucracy is onerous.

“This expresses Israelis’ desire to be tied into the European Union in one shape or form,” said Ilan Charsky, a lawyer who handles paperwork for Israelis hopeful of gaining Polish citizenship, a process that takes about six months. “The people who can get this link are very interested to be a part of it.”

His clients include an employee of Intel’s subsidiary in Israel who wants to transfer to the company’s offices in Ireland and sees Polish citizenship as a way to easily get a work visa.

A businessman mulling an investment in properties in Corfu, Greece, needs the European passport to be eligible to put in a bid.

Mr. Charsky said he’s handling more than 1,200 citizenship requests from Israelis of Polish descent.

According to the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, about 1,200 Israelis obtained citizenship in 2004. A few years ago, the numbers were negligible.

“Poland as a country has changed. Several years ago, we were members of the socialist union, and now we are part of the European Union,” said Edward Dobrowolski, a consul who oversees visas at the embassy.

“People know that the Polish passport is opening the door to other countries and other possibilities,” he said. The demand isn’t limited to Poland. Last year, about 2,200 Israelis obtained German citizenship, according to a spokeswoman from the Tel Aviv embassy.

Among the crowd of a dozen prospective citizens, there were three generations of Israelis waiting, each with a different perspective about gaining Polish citizenship.

For young Israelis who aspire to succeed in a globalized world, having one passport is not good enough.

Lior Spivak, a 25-year-old with an undergraduate degree in business, said the possibility of studying or working abroad outweighed any concern about the Continent’s history of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is everywhere in the world — whether in the U.S. or in Europe,” he said. “That won’t be the decisive factor in my decision.”

Parents say they want to give their children any advantage they can.

“We want to leave something for our kids,” said Shoshana, who declined to give her last name. The member of kibbutz Ma’anit said she has been encouraging her parents to visit Poland for years, but to no avail. Bringing her parents to the embassy took a bit of convincing as well.

“I am embarrassed that I need to ask for something like this,” said Shoshana’s father, who also refused to give his name. The resident of Hadera said that he spent most of World War II in Russia and then moved to Israel afterwards.

“I’ve never been back. I know them, and they were worse than the Germans,” he said.

Those who have re-established ties with Poland think the discrimination still exists.

Hana Viesbrot, a 71-year-old native of Hrubishov, Poland, has visited Poland twice, but thinks the country is not eager to give Israelis citizenship. “They are afraid because they think people will want their homes back.”

But not everyone is lining up at the embassy. Yehudit Re’em, who attended elementary school in Poland, lives near the embassy and sees crowds outside the entrance every day, rain or shine. But she’s never joined them.

“After all that has happened, I’m not interested,” she said.

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