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Citizenship 2.0Dual Nationality as a Global Asset$

Yossi Harpaz

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691194066

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691194066.001.0001

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European Passports as Insurance and Restitution

(p.97) 4 Israel
Citizenship 2.0

Yossi Harpaz

Princeton University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter analyzes EU citizenship in Israel. Israel's high income level and low emigration rate set it apart from Serbia and Mexico and make dual citizenship less obviously useful. EU–Israeli dual citizens rarely refer to themselves as dual citizens, but instead see themselves as “Israelis with a European passport.” The chapter then demonstrates that citizenship applicants are mainly driven by two motivations that were conditioned by Jewish history. The first is the wish to hold an insurance policy against the possibility of Israel being destroyed. The second is the desire for a status symbol that signifies their elitist position in Israel as European-origin Jews. Ironically, the grandchildren of Jews who had left Europe for Israel now look to German or Hungarian passports for security.

Keywords:   EU citizenship, Israel, dual citizenship, dual citizens, European passport, Jewish history, status symbol, European-origin Jews

The expansion of the European Union, coupled with member countries’ citizenship outreach policies, have created new opportunities for people outside the Union’s territory. In chapter 2, I explored the dynamics of cross-border EU citizenship in Serbia. The pull of the EU, however, extends far beyond the European continent. In middle-tier countries that have historically received immigration from Europe, the children and grandchildren of those immigrants are now drawing on their ancestry to acquire dual citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of Argentineans and Brazilians obtain Italian citizenship, Cubans and Venezuelans secure Spanish citizenship, and many Israelis acquire citizenship from their countries of origin in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), such as Germany, Poland, Hungary and Romania.1

In this chapter, I analyze EU-Israeli dual citizenship as a case of compensatory citizenship that is produced on the basis of ancestry. This case has a special place within the book’s comparative framework. Israel’s high income level and low emigration rate set it apart from Serbia and Mexico and make dual citizenship less obviously useful. Many Serbians dream of immigrating to Western Europe, and many norteños are closely tied to the United States. Israelis may visit Europe frequently as tourists, but there is very little Israeli immigration to the EU.

Moreover, European-origin Israelis are hardly nostalgic about the countries where their families have been persecuted and murdered. Several Israeli politicians and intellectuals have condemned the quest for German and Polish (p.98) citizenship as a disgrace for Holocaust survivor families and an affront to Zionist ideals.2 Israelis, these critics argue, should have neither a practical nor a sentimental reason to seek EU citizenship. And yet they do so—and in large numbers.

In this chapter, I argue that the motives that drive Israelis of European origin (or Ashkenazim) to acquire dual citizenship are thoroughly embedded in culturally specific, noneconomic logics of action. Many applicants acquire dual citizenship as an “insurance policy” in case Israel is destroyed. This reflects an attitude toward citizenship that is conditioned by a Jewish family habitus—a set of behavioral dispositions and value orientations, in the terms of Pierre Bourdieu—that was shaped by centuries of diasporic existence as an ethnic minority. Another important motivation to obtain an EU passport is that it is perceived as a “cool” thing to have, talk about, and show at border crossings. For many younger Israelis of European origin, the EU passport also serves as a status symbol.

The particularity of this case is also reflected in the way Israelis speak about the phenomenon. The term “dual citizenship” and the name of the granting country are almost never used. Instead, Israeli dual citizens say that they have obtained a “European passport.” This phrasing tiptoes around the provocative term “dual citizen” while also minimizing the connection to origin countries like Germany and Poland, whose name usually evoke negative associations in Israel. Instead, the focus is on Europe—with the global prestige that goes with that name—while citizenship is reduced to the physical object of the passport.

Citizenship from CEE countries is just one of multiple types of dual citizenship in Israel. Nearly a quarter-million Israelis hold dual citizenship from the United States, and many are dual citizens of Russia (see methodological appendix). In 2015, Spain and Portugal passed laws that offer citizenship to the descendants of Jews who were expelled by Spanish and Portuguese kings at the end of the fifteenth century (called Sepharadim). This move expanded potential eligibility for EU citizenship to all Jews who have roots in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Levant—about 2.5 to 3.5 million persons in Israel alone. As of late 2018, about 10,000 persons have already acquired Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, but only about 2,000 of them were Israeli: many applicants hailed from Jewish communities in Turkey, Venezuela, Argentina and elsewhere.3 The eligibility criteria are essentially ethnic: applicants must prove their membership in the Sepharadic community rather than direct descent from a former citizen (it cannot be otherwise, given that the loss of citizenship took place more than five centuries ago).4 Here, I focus on the more longstanding and common phenomenon of EU citizenship acquired on the basis of descent from CEE immigrants.

(p.99) Legal and Historical Background

The emergence of EU-Israeli dual citizenship reflects deep geopolitical and societal changes in both CEE countries and Israel. Like Hungarian dual citizenship in Serbia, EU-Israeli dual citizenship became possible and attractive thanks to the legal acceptance of dual citizenship and the admission of post-communist CEE countries to the EU. At the same time, the phenomenon also reflects changes in Israeli society—above all, a generational shift that has created a new understanding of national identity.

Today, seven decades after the Nazi destruction of European Jews, Jewish presence in Central and Eastern Europe is negligible. Across most of the region, all that remain are old synagogues and abandoned graveyards. Historically, however, the region was home to the majority of the world’s Jews for centuries, from the late middle ages up until the Holocaust.5 Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe provided a large share of the immigrants who came to Israel. Between 1920 and 1970, about one million European Jews arrived in Israel (before 1948, the Mandate of Palestine). Most of them came from Poland, Romania, and Germany.6

Today, those immigrants (Olim in Hebrew) and their descendants number an estimated 2 to 2.5 million persons and form roughly a third of Israel’s Jewish population.7 Ashkenazi Jews are Israel’s most advantaged group, enjoying higher socioeconomic status and symbolic prestige compared to Jews of Middle Eastern or Russian-speaking origins, not to mention the country’s discriminated Arab minority. To date, all of Israel’s prime ministers and all but two of its presidents were Ashkenazi.8

Most Ashkenazim in Israel descend from immigrants who arrived shortly before or soon after World War II. They came as refugees and have lost most of their families—and whatever property they had—in the Holocaust. In some CEE countries, including Poland, Hungary, and Romania, anti-Jewish policies and actions began long before the Nazi occupation and continued into the postwar years.9 Jews were never accepted as full members of those nations, even when they were formally citizens. This defines a key difference between EU-Israeli dual citizens and other cases of ancestry-based citizenship acquisition. When Italian descendants in Argentina apply for dual citizenship, they are also reconnecting with their ethnic roots.10 EU-Israeli dual citizens, in contrast, typically have no ethnic or national identification with their countries of origin.

How did dual citizenship become available in this case? Israel has always permitted toward dual citizenship. It is explicitly permitted in the country’s citizenship law, which was passed in 1952 and has undergone only minor revisions since then.11 The main logic driving this tolerant attitude is ethnonational. As Patrick Weil has argued, Israeli law is premised on a legal construction whereby (p.100) Jewish immigrants (Olim) are defined as returning emigrants and thus already members of the nation.12

This conception lies at the root of Israel’s 1950 Law of Return, which offers automatic citizenship to Jewish immigrants without imposing any of the requirements that are associated with immigrant naturalization. The toleration of dual citizenship is aimed to encourage Olim to become Israeli while allowing them to keep their former nationality.13 In the early 1950s, when Israel’s citizenship regime was taking shape, the right to dual citizenship was irrelevant for the majority of Israelis, who arrived stateless from Eastern Europe or the Middle East. The tolerant policy was mainly intended to attract Jews from Western Europe and North America. Dual citizenship, which was originally designed as an exception for elite immigrants, is now common among native-born Israelis.

In CEE countries, in contrast, the acceptance of dual citizenship is a new development that dates from the 1990s (see introduction). The newly permissive citizenship laws in CEE countries were not designed to facilitate the integration of immigrants, for the simple reason that these countries (except Germany) receive very little immigration. Instead, they were primarily aimed to facilitate the inclusion of descendants of emigrants and coethnics living abroad.

All countries in Europe allow the transmission of citizenship jure sanguinis to the children of citizens born abroad. Moreover, most European countries now permit the descendants of emigrants to reacquire dual citizenship from abroad even if they had not received it at birth.14 What makes the citizenship policy of many post-communist CEE countries remarkable is its restitutive function.

Dual citizenship laws in Central and Eastern Europe are a mechanism of restitution in the sense that they reclaim for the nation these territories and populations that had been lost through war. This is the logic that guides the Hungarian policy that was discussed in chapter 2, and the dual citizenship policies of other countries including Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia. Some countries’ citizenship laws also seek to reverse the emigration of conationals during communism. In the nationalist historical narratives now accepted in most CEE countries, the communist period was a time of antinational repression that pushed countless patriots to emigrate to the West. The offer of dual citizenship is an invitation to those émigrés and their descendants to rejoin the nation.

Even when these individuals do not immigrate back to their ethnic homelands (and this is usually the case), the citizen diaspora is still valuable as a source of foreign investment, a political lobby, and a symbol of the nation’s perseverance. In the words of Constantin Iordachi, “In Central and Eastern Europe … dual citizenship has not served as a way of integrating alien residents, but mostly as a way of reconstructing the national ‘imagined communities.’”15

Jews were never members of those imagined national communities, and the laws offering citizenship restitution are not aimed at them. Therefore, Israelis who obtain EU dual citizenship are accidental beneficiaries of policies that are (p.101) actually aimed at reinforcing ethnonationalism. This is ironic because ethnic nationalism in countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania was—and often still is—marked by strong anti-Jewish sentiments.

The case is different for Germany, where there is an explicit and deliberate policy of restitution for Jews. The German Basic Law from 1949 decrees the return of German citizenship to those who have lost it due to Nazi persecution, and to their descendants. Israelis have had the possibility of regaining German citizenship since 1965, when the two countries established diplomatic relations.16 In recent years, additional CEE countries began to enact a deliberate policy of citizenship restitution vis-à-vis their Jewish former citizens—most notably, Poland.17

The growth of EU-Israeli dual citizenship, then, is mostly an unintended consequence of citizenship policies that are aimed to achieve very different aims. The rise of aggressive ethnic nationalisms in the 1920s and 1930s has led to the destruction of European Jewry and made Israel into a haven for Jewish refugees. In the 1990s, however, the children and grandchildren of those refugees became eligible for dual citizenship from the countries that their families had escaped decades before. After 2000, with the expansion of the EU, such citizenship also became useful and desirable. This development is ironic in a double sense. First, the descendants of Jews who narrowly escaped destruction in Europe are now looking back to their origin countries for protection. Second, Israelis are now acquiring citizenship on the basis of laws that were not intended for them, and that draw on the same ethonnationalist ideas that previously justified their exclusion.

EU-Israeli Dual Citizenship by the Numbers

The number of EU dual citizens in Israel has increased dramatically over the past two decades. As of 2015, it can be estimated at about 380,000 (including British and Swiss), or almost 5 percent of Israel’s population.18 Out of this total, approximately 200,000 Israelis held dual citizenship from countries in Central and Eastern Europe: 125,000 from Germany and another 75,000 from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Based on an estimate of 2 to 2.5 million Israelis of CEE origin, between 8 and 10 percent of the potentially eligible population have acquired EU citizenship.

Dual citizenship in itself is not new in Israel, and there have always been some Israelis with dual citizenship from the United States or other Western countries. However, citizenship from CEE countries other than Germany is a new phenomenon. Data that I have collected from embassy records and various administrative sources show that before the year 2000, there was practically no demand for citizenship from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Between 2000 to 2017, over 85,000 Israelis have acquired EU citizenship from (p.102)

IsraelEuropean Passports as Insurance and Restitution

Figure 4.1. Acquisition of German citizenship and emigration from Israel, 1990–2015

Note: The dashed grey line represents acquisition of German citizenship by Israelis and refers to the axis on the left. The solid black line represents net emigration from Israel and refers to the axis on the right.

Sources: Data received upon request from German Statistical Office; data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Greece, and Austria. This includes 33,321 acquisitions of German citizenship, about 28,000 acquisitions of Polish citizenship, and between 3,000 and 6,000 citizenship acquisitions in each of the following countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.19

The timing of citizenship applications shows that the citizenship of post-communist Eastern European countries only became attractive to Israelis once these countries were on their way to join the EU.20 This is consistent with the compensatory citizenship approach: conscious of the value of actual and potential citizenships, eligible individuals only file applications when they stand to gain a higher-tier passport. There are, however, other logics at work beside instrumentality. In order to learn more about the forces that drive citizenship acquisition, I will analyze data from the only granting country that has made detailed statistics available: Germany. Figure 4.1 displays statistics on the acquisition of German citizenship between 1990 and 2015, alongside figures on emigration from Israel.

The graph shows that levels of German citizenship acquisition (the dotted gray line) were relatively low during the 1990s, punctuated by minor spikes in 1992 and 1995. In 2001–2, acquisition begins to increase dramatically, alongside (p.103) a temporary increase in emigration from Israel. After a peak in 2006, citizenship acquisition settled down to a level that is almost double the level in the 1990s. Net emigration was relatively high during the 1990s, spiked in 2001–2, then gradually declined. The graph allows us to analyze the connection between citizenship acquisition and (1) the security situation in Israel, (2) EU expansion, and (3) emigration. I will discuss these elements in order.

First, the spikes in citizenship acquisition in 1992 and 1995 most likely express Israelis’ response to security events: Iraqi missile attacks in 1991 and Palestinian suicide bombings in 1993–95 (the delay is explained by the processing time of applications, which is at least 6 to 12 months). Likewise, the dramatic increase after 2000 is partly explained by the wave of terrorist attacks that began that year and went on until 2003. In interviews with consular officers and citizenship lawyers, they repeatedly mentioned that security-related events—the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in 2000–2002 and the conflicts with Hezbollah and Hamas in 2006, 2008, and 2014—led to spikes in citizenship applications.

I corroborated this point through a separate analysis of statistics that I obtained from a citizenship lawyer on the number of phone inquiries about German citizenship received by his office. Phone inquiries provide a more direct indicator of raw demand than acquisitions, because there is no processing delay. That analysis showed that between 2008 and 2014, interest in citizenship was strongly correlated with the number of Israeli casualties of war and terrorism. In years with more casualties, more people inquired about German citizenship.21 This shows that security concerns are one of the key forces that drives demand for dual citizenship.

The second factor is the expansion of the EU, which affected citizenship acquisition both directly and indirectly. The direct effect has to do with the citizenship of CEE countries beside Germany, including Poland, Romania, and others. Israeli demand for citizenship in those countries only appeared when they were about to join the EU. Indeed, the statistics show that the acquisition of Polish citizenship began to increase in the years leading up to 2004—the year that the country joined the EU. Demand for citizenship from Romania and Bulgaria, which became EU members in 2007, started increasing one to two years before their accession.

Beside the direct influence of EU expansion, which made citizenship from Poland or Romania attractive overnight, it also had an indirect effect on German citizenship. Germany has been a member of the EU from its very beginnings, and the practical value of its citizenship did not increase in 2004–6, the years when acquisition reached its peak (see figure 4.1). This suggests that one of the factors driving the popularity of German citizenship has been destigmatization. As ever more Israelis acquired citizenship from countries like Poland or Hungary, it became increasingly legitimate and socially acceptable to have (p.104) a “European passport”; this effect spilled over into the most controversial and provocative citizenship.

German citizenship has been available to Israelis since 1965, when the two countries established diplomatic relations. For a long time, however, it was seen as an “abomination,” and Israelis who took it were subjected to harsh criticism.22 Until the 1980s, many Israelis boycotted German products on principle.23 Against this background, EU integration increased the legitimacy of German citizenship by minimizing its association with Germany. In contrast to the idea that individuals seek dual citizenship because it is associated with a particular nationality or ethnicity, in the Israeli case, German citizenship became desirable precisely because it had been disassociated from a specific national identity. It changed from “abominable” German citizenship into a prestigious European passport. This demonstrates the key role that conceptions of honor and shame play in shaping demand for dual citizenship.

The third aspect connected with EU citizenship is emigration. Did citizenship uptake lead to an increase in emigration, as was seen in the Serbian case? The figure shows that it did not. The proliferation of EU citizenship did not lead to an increase in emigration. The spike in emigration in 2001–2 was a response to the security situation in addition to an economic downturn in Israel. Since 2003, emigration levels went down in spite of the greater ease of emigrating with the help of the EU passport. In fact, the rate of emigration from Israel is now significantly lower than it was in the 1990s or the early 2000s, when far fewer Israelis had dual citizenship.24

In general, Israel is not an major emigration-sending country (only about 4 percent of the persons who were born in Israel now live in other OECD countries, compared with 9 to 12 percent for Serbia or Mexico).25 While the emigration rate has declined, there is some evidence that a slightly larger proportion of Israeli emigrants head to Europe. There has been a modest growth in the number of Israelis who emigrated to EU countries in the period between 2000 and 2015 relative to the period between 1990 and 2000.26 Some Israeli immigrants in Europe settled in a new destination: Germany, and especially Berlin. I will discuss this interesting development later in this chapter.

Acquiring EU Citizenship

The proliferation of EU citizenship has attracted a great deal of attention in Israeli society. This is no surprise, given that the phenomenon opens up provocative questions about identity and history. It also leads families to engage in a collective effort to uncover documents from past lives and provides a new set of global resources and opportunities. In the following sections, I discuss the everyday consequences of EU dual citizenship in Israel.

(p.105) Below, I will present two short vignettes to illustrate the life circumstances and motivations of Israelis who seek EU dual citizenship. Then, I will discuss the citizenship industry that emerged in Israel and the dynamics of family cooperation. Next, I will describe how Israelis use EU citizenship to secure opportunities, security, and travel freedom. Finally, I will analyze dual citizenship as an instrument of social closure, exploring its place within the Israeli system of ethnic and class stratification.

Citizenship Industry: Capitalizing on European Ancestry

Eligibility for EU citizenship is determined on the basis of a single criterion: descent from a citizen.28 Applicants are not officially required to demonstrate language skills or any other kind of affinity with the granting country.29 Ancestry, in this case, can be described as genealogical capital. Once applicants have established the citizenship of the original European-born immigrant, eligibility for citizenship flows down to his or her descendants, thanks to the jus sanguinis laws of CEE granting countries, most of whom set no generational stopping point for citizenship transmission.30 Therefore, the key to EU citizenship is locating the documentation that provides proof of the original immigrant’s citizenship.

In chapter 2, I described the ease with which applicants in Vojvodina established their ancestors’ Hungarian nationality: this requires nothing more than a trip to the nearby town where they could find the relevant records written in Serbian or Hungarian. Israeli citizenship applicants are in a very different situation. Most of them have never visited their country of origin and cannot speak its language. The typical immigrant grandparent has left his or her origin country fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago and has never visited it since. Moreover, many immigrants were sole survivors from families and communities that were wiped out and many have spent long years in Nazi concentration camps and then in resettlement camps for displaced persons. Jewish life throughout Central and Eastern Europe was extinguished in the Holocaust, meaning that no local communities remained there. In many cases, the Nazis destroyed the official records of Jews, seeking to wipe out the bureaucratic persona alongside (p.108) the physical person.31 In other cases, records were destroyed in the context of wartime chaos. Therefore, obtaining proof of the original citizenship is often a major challenge.

The first step in the quest for citizenship is digging up decades-old documents in the original citizen’s home. A surprising range of documents may provide the required proof, including passports, travel permits, identity cards, birth certificates, or even a high-school diploma from the European country of origin. In many cases, however, this search does not produce anything. When applicants cannot locate a document that testifies to the immigrant’s citizenship, their families must somehow reconstruct the grandparents’ “paper trail” in their origin country and locate some documentary evidence of their past lives there. Often, they have only vague family anecdotes to guide them.

At this point, many families turn to citizenship specialists, who facilitate applications by locating necessary documents and pushing applications through the bureaucratic pipeline. Whereas demand for American-Mexican dual nationality produced an industry of cross-border births and Hungarian-Serbian dual citizenship created an industry of foreign language instruction, in Israel the availability of EU ancestry-based citizenship gave rise to an industry of experts who specialize in navigating through the bureaucracies of CEE countries. This industry has grown rapidly after the year 2000, to the point that there are now dozens of lawyers, translators, and machers (Yiddish for “fixers,” who cut through red tape).

What kind of expertise do these citizenship specialists sell? The first and most important asset is knowledge: they are proficient in the relevant country’s language, familiar with its citizenship laws, and they possess bureaucratic contacts and know-how. Every lawyer or macher specializes in one or two countries, usually based on their origins (e.g., Romanian-origin lawyers specialize in Romanian citizenship).

A second and less obvious way in which specialists make applications accessible to Israelis goes beyond resolving bureaucratic and linguistic difficulties. It has to do with the moral or normative aspect of dual citizenship. Citizenship specialists are agents of destigmatization, who play a key role in constructing EU dual citizenship as a legitimate commodity, one that is “good to think.” They do this by informing Israelis about their eligibility for citizenship and by serving as intermediaries who buffer applicants from direct contact with their would-be countries of citizenship.

First, citizenship lawyers contributed to the dramatic increase in the public awareness about the possibility of applying. In 2001, Israeli bar regulations changed to allow lawyers to advertise their services. Citizenship services proved ideal for advertisement, and soon there were many newspaper advertisements inviting eligible Israelis to reclaim German, Austrian, or Polish citizenship. Up to that point, most eligible Israelis had no idea that they could (p.109) become citizens of CEE countries. The appearance of advertisements led to an increase in awareness that led to an increase in demand, and that in turn led to a further increase in public awareness, as the media took up the subject.32

Today, the vast majority of European-origin Israelis are aware of their potential eligibility for citizenship. In this process, biographical trivia—a grandmother from Łódź in Poland; a father born in Cluj, Romania—turned overnight into a valuable resource. It is interesting to compare this to the situation in Serbia, where the main actor that spreads information about eligibility for citizenship is the Hungarian government itself. Whereas demand for Hungarian citizenship is promoted through top-down campaigns by a vote-seeking government, in Israel it is a bottom-up marketing effort by profit-seeking individual entrepreneurs—in other words, a business.

Second, citizenship specialists act as buffers between applicants and the countries from which they seek citizenship. They insulate applicants from the negative associations and traumas that are associated with their origin country, and from feelings of shame and discomfort. The fieldwork I conducted at embassies suggested that many applicants felt extremely uncomfortable when interacting with officials from “their” European country. Officials typically insisted that applicants use only the national language (e.g., Polish or Hungarian) and refused to speak English. This created a stressful situation, as second-generation applicants typically spoke the language poorly and first-generation immigrants associated it with painful memories. Furthermore, consular officials often displayed a hostile and uncooperative attitude and the embassies themselves—especially the Romanian and Polish—were experienced as disorderly and chaotic spaces, creating an experience of bureaucratic humiliation.33

Many applicants instinctively linked this unwelcoming treatment to the experiences of persecution that they or their parents experienced in Europe, and to anti-Jewish prejudice. The following episode took place outside the Polish embassy during an observation session:

  • Ruth, a Polish-born Israeli woman in her seventies, was waiting outside the Polish embassy, which was scheduled to open in ten minutes. She told me that she had come to apply for the sake of her grandchildren. It started raining, and she asked the security guards to allow her to enter the embassy for shelter before the official opening time. After the security guards refused to let her in, she came back looking shocked and said: “They told me ‘Out!’ They dared to tell me ‘Out!’ They did not change one bit. They just want to humiliate us.” She then walked away from the embassy in anger.

The extreme sensitivity expressed in this vignette reveals the deep trauma that many Israeli Holocaust survivors carry, and which is also shared by many second-generation and even third-generation applicants. Thus, many people find the procedure of citizenship application too painful or humiliating even (p.110) when they have all the documents. Citizenship specialists handle most of the required embassy visits for their clients, thereby greatly reducing the emotional cost of application, and the sense that this is something other than the purchase of a good.

There were many indications of this commodified approach to citizenship. Applicants often used terms that explicitly compared citizenship acquisition to investment. For example, Ya’akov, a fifty-eight-year-old Romanian-born Israeli who applied for Romanian citizenship for himself and his daughter, explained: “[The European passport] is like a luxury article that you buy, a fine watch or a laptop computer. You will not use all of its features. Possibly, you will never use more than five or ten percent of its capacities. But you are willing to pay extra for the potential.” In this description, national membership is translated into the language of market consumption. EU citizenship is a “luxury article”; it is “bought” rather than acquired on the basis of origin and identity. This citizenship-reimagined-as-product does not confer rights (let alone impose duties); instead, it has “features” and “capacities.” In a similar vein, Nadav in vignette 2 compares EU citizenship to a high-tech gadget and admits that he would have preferred US citizenship, but “I’ll take whatever I can get.” In those discourses, citizenship is envisioned as a form of private property. It obeys the logic of instrumental rationality: it is a means to an end (and therefore interchangeable) rather than an end in itself.

Another variant of the property discourse revolves around restitution. Many respondents argued that their parents’ or grandparents’ citizenship was a piece of family property that was illegally taken away, and that they had a natural right to demand its return.34 Respondents often appealed to their right to restitution and historical justice when justifying their right for citizenship. Sharon, twenty-nine, a German-Israeli dual citizen, said: “My great-grandfather was from a bourgeois family that owned a big department store [in Germany]. Everything was taken away from them. They came [to Israel] and started everything anew and never received any compensation. So there is no reason why there shouldn’t be some indirect restitution to their descendants.” Another respondent, Shoshana, a second-generation Hungarian-Israeli, said: “We are not asking for any favors—we just want what is ours.”

Such conceptions are understandable when considering the losses of life and property suffered by Israeli Jewish families in the Holocaust. But there is also a hint of irony: until recently, when lawyers and the media began informing Israelis that they could acquire citizenship, most applicants had no idea that they possessed such a right.

The material from the interviews suggests a strong tendency among Israeli applicants to conceive of citizenship in economic terms: many of them spoke of their EU citizenship as an investment or a product, something that they received as restitution and passed on as gift. At the same time, we must stress (p.111) that applicants did not view citizenship acquisition as a purely economic transaction. Instead, it was an economic exchange that was mixed up with moral and emotional values: love, commitment, nostalgia, and a sense of vindication, but also discomfort and shame.

Many dual citizens felt that citizenship restitution offered late justice to their persecuted parents and grandparents, and, moreover, it displayed love and commitment vis-à-vis their children and siblings. Acquisition of ancestry-based citizenship was never a straightforward purchase of the kind offered by citizenship-by-investment programs. Instead, it was a complex act of appropriation that does not conform to any one category of exchange. An application might be initiated for economic motives, but it proceeds as a legal claim for restitution and is justified on the basis of family history.

Family Dynamics

The decision to apply for EU citizenship always involves a whole circle of relatives: not just the immigrant parent or grandparent (if they are alive), but also the children of citizenship applicants, their siblings, and often their spouses. The opportunities provided by EU citizenship are mainly relevant to the younger generation. And, indeed, it is often young people in their twenties and thirties who typically initiate applications after learning about that possibility from their friends or from the media. In other cases, second-generation parents initiate the application in order to improve their children’s life prospects. Citizenship lawyers report that an average application “produces” three to five citizens from two or three generations. Applying for a European passport is a family project governed—at least in part—by family logic.

Before going further, I will briefly clarify the generational structure of the Ashkenazi family in Israel, as it was understood by respondents and broader society. Israelis typically refer to a trigenerational family structure. The “first generation” includes individuals who were born in Europe around the years 1910–1930 and immigrated between the 1920s and 1960s. The “second generation,” or the parent generation, were born between 1940 and 1960, most of them in Israel and some in Europe. The Ashkenazi “third generation” were born in Israel between 1970 and 1990. At first sight, these terms appear similar to those used in other immigration countries (as in “second-generation immigrants”). In fact, the generational count does not refer to immigration to Israel; instead, the “zero hour” they refer to is the Holocaust. It appears that this entire generational structure is extrapolated from the expression “second generation to the Holocaust,” (Dor Sheni LaShoah) which originated in the psychotherapeutic discourse about the transmission of trauma.35

Most applications followed a typical generational division of labor: first-generation immigrant grandparents provide the basis for eligibility, but (being (p.112) dead or very old) take no part in the application; and third-generation grandchildren often initiate the procedure, but do not actively contribute to it. The parent generation, in their fifties and sixties, are the ones who carry out the application and provide the necessary labor and expenses. This bureaucratic journey is often undertaken in collaboration with siblings, who also split the costs between them.

In spite of the work they put into obtaining citizenship, second-generation dual citizens typically do not derive any personal benefit from it. Most of them never even use their European passports for international travel. Thus, the primary motive of second-generation parents to apply for citizenship is the feeling that it is “good for the family.” For example, fifty-eight-year old Shoshana said: “I only [obtained Hungarian citizenship] so that my children will have a passport. I have no intention of using it. Actually, I am ashamed to have a Hungarian passport. [I am ashamed] because my mother would turn in her grave if she knew. … She left Hungary at eighteen and never wanted to talk or visit or hear from them again.”

While not all second-generation dual citizens held such negative views of their countries of citizenship, the sentiment of shame expressed by Shoshana is highly typical of that generation. The phenomenon whereby people take the citizenship of countries that they abhor often leads to ironic situations. Consider Haim, a fifty-five-year-old engineer whose German-born father left Germany in 1939 as a boy and was the sole survivor from his large family. Haim boycotted German products his entire life and has never set foot in Germany. However, when his daughters asked him to obtain citizenship for them, he complied. Now he is a German citizen with a German passport who continues to boycott Germany and everything German, including his own passport.

The intergenerational interaction within the Ashkenazi family around citizenship application demonstrates the way emotional and economic elements intertwine with family relations, as pointed out by sociologists, including Pierre Bourdieu and Viviana Zelizer.36 Second-generation parents are reluctant to become dual citizens but do not hesitate to obtain citizenship for the sake of their children. They view this as an act of good parenthood that strengthens the family through a performance of love and unity. The cooperation between second-generation siblings, which was reported by almost all respondents, sets an example of coordinated family action to the younger generation. And the passport is bestowed upon the third generation as a gift.

The European passport is highly suitable to serve as a gift within the family: it is created through cooperation inspired by fraternal love and given as an act of parental love. Furthermore, it is impossible to quantify and calculate the costs and the benefits of citizenship. This makes the passport suitable as a “gift of love” that serves as an intergenerational transfer of wealth while at the same time reinforcing the noncalculating symbolic basis on which the family rests. (p.113) These features make the family dynamic in Israel very similar to those that were found in the Mexican case. This similarity is not self-evident, given the difference between drawing on preexisting ancestral ties and creating a new tie through strategic birth.

The quest for the European passport reinforces the cohesion of the family in an additional manner: it leads family members to engage with old documents like marriage certificates and passports, family photos, and stories—both painful and quotidian—about the lives of former generations. Stories and personalities from past generations come to life, becoming present and relevant. Conversations about them act out the continuity of the family and expand the world of meaning shared by the second and third generations. In some cases, the application process also requires visits to the origin country; such visits often become joint family trips in search of traces of the immigrant generation’s past lives and strengthen the sense of a shared family history.

This collective act of weaving a continuous family story carries special meaning because most Israelis understand their family’s immigration to Israel (Aliyah) not just as a geographical move but as an existential revolution: from the humiliated and miserable life in the diaspora to proud and independent life in Israel. This fundamental aspect of Zionist ideology—the rejection of the Exile (Shlilat HaGalut)—played out dramatically in the lives of second-generation Israelis. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, they sought to embrace Israeli identity in the most complete way possible, including refusing to understand Yiddish and origin-country languages, Hebraicizing their family names, and rejecting any nostalgia for or interest in their origin country. The total embrace of Israeli identity entailed a feeling of estrangement from, and even shame about, their Galuti (diasporic) parents and their past lives. This rupture with the origin country was facilitated by the fact that there were typically no relatives left behind and no possibility of visiting communist dictatorships. Therefore, the application for citizenship provides the second generation with an opportunity to rediscover and reconnect with their family roots together with their children.

At the same time, the acquisition of dual citizenship also reconnects Ashkenazi Israelis with family attitudes and strategies that have developed over the course of Jewish history as an ethnic minority that led a mobile, precarious existence. While demand for citizenship increased in relation to concrete security events, it was linked to a more general existential anxiety. When discussing their motivation to seek EU citizenship, many respondents—especially second-generation parents—brought up Israel’s uncertain future, the lessons of Jewish history, and their families’ experiences in the Holocaust. This suggests that Israeli parents who acquire EU citizenship for their children are partly inspired by dispositions that form part of a diasporic habitus.

The connection between dual citizenship and diasporic family habitus was explored by the anthropologist Aihwa Ong in her research on Chinese diaspora (p.114) elites in Southeast Asia. Ethnic Chinese in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have a long history as a mobile ethnic caste of traders and middlemen.37 The Chinese diaspora flourished under the diverse and segmented arrangement of European colonial rule; under nationalist regimes, they suffered from discrimination and persecution. More recently, thanks to the new opportunities provided by globalization, many overseas Chinese formed business connections across Asia, Europe, and North America. Such families go to great lengths to obtain citizenship in Western countries and relate to it in an instrumental approach that Ong terms “flexible citizenship.”

This strategic, nonsentimental approach to national membership is part of the practical, cognitive, and normative dispositions that overseas Chinese families perfected during the course of their history as a mobile, mercantile diaspora in an uncertain environment. The analogy to the Jewish case is obvious: like overseas Chinese, diaspora Jews were a highly mobile and often persecuted ethnic caste that specialized in trade and finance.38 Such conditions can be expected to lead to the formation of long-term behavioral dispositions—a diasporic habitus—that consist of suspicion toward host states, strong adherence to the family, and an attempt to secure mobility and economic opportunities.39

European citizenship acquires value within the family that goes far beyond the right to work or study in Europe. From the perspective of the diasporically conditioned second generation, the offer of citizenship restitution is an attractive opportunity to improve the family’s prospects by securing a valuable global resource. In a global context, it is an act of upward social mobility; in the intra-Israeli context, it is an intergenerational transfer of wealth. Moreover, the application procedure itself provides applicants with the opportunity to perform a number of roles within the family: dedicated parents, cooperative siblings, and dutiful sons and daughters who remember and pass on their parents’ life stories.

Putting EU Citizenship to Use


The most common answer that respondents provided when asked about their motivation to apply was that EU citizenship opened up economic opportunities. This pragmatic approach also dominated media discussions of the phenomenon; several news outlets have even published “consumer guides” that instruct Israelis on how to obtain a second citizenship.40 EU citizenship does in fact carry potential economic benefits, including eligibility for residence and work in European countries on the basis of EU freedom of movement for workers, and reduced university tuition in some countries. In addition, dual citizens gain the right to purchase real estate in countries where this right is or was restricted to citizens (such as Romania and the Czech Republic), and (p.115) citizenship may facilitate their claims for restitution of family property in the countries of citizenship.41

On the other hand, the statistics that were presented above show that the proliferation of EU dual citizenship did not increase emigration from Israel. This is explained by Israel’s high level of economic development, which makes emigration to Europe relatively unattractive: average wages are on par with countries like Spain or Italy, and unemployment is low. Nevertheless, there has been a modest increase in the number of Israelis moving to Europe, and especially to Germany.

An interesting new destination is the German capital Berlin. A recent study by Dani Kranz estimated the number of Israelis in Berlin at around 11,000. About 2,200 of them have German dual citizenship, and many others most likely hold citizenship from other EU countries.42 This immigration has received attention because of its provocative symbolism: the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors returning to the capital of the Third Reich. It also provides an example of the new modalities of migration and forms of transnationalism that EU dual citizenship has made possible.

Israelis who move to Berlin are not looking for high-paying jobs, which are not that city’s strong point. Instead, the German capital has become a mecca for young Israeli artists, musicians and students, who enjoy the city’s vibrant and cosmopolitan atmosphere and its low living costs. Many of them divide their time between Tel-Aviv and Berlin. This migration is partly a response to the meteoric rise in real estate prices in Israel after 2008, which in turn has to do with the growing number of Jews from outside Israel (above all, from France) who bought real estate in Israel as an “insurance policy.” At the same time that Israelis use EU citizenship as insurance, some European and American Jews view ownership of property in Israel as insurance against risks in their own countries.43

Only a small minority of EU-Israeli dual citizens use their citizenship to emigrate to Europe, however. The vast majority continue to live in Israel. Most people who seek EU citizenship are inspired by a rather vague concept of its economic usefulness and not by a concrete plan of action. This attitude can be illustrated through a quotation from Shoshana, a fifty-eight-year-old travel agent from Tel-Aviv who obtained Hungarian passports for herself and her three sons: “Around 2000, that’s when [my sister and I] started handling the application [for Hungarian citizenship]. It was then that people started talking about the European Union. And we thought it’s a good idea: if we have a European passport, then the kids can study, work, whatever they want. We’ll open up new horizons for them.” This statement is typical: dual citizens explained that a passport was “practical” because it created opportunities for employment and education in EU countries. Around the year 2000, in Shoshana’s words, “people started talking about the European Union.” This interest grew in the (p.116) period leading up to the introduction of the unified Euro currency in 2002 and the accession of ten new members to the EU (including Hungary and Poland) in 2004. Note the broad and nonspecific view of the perceived usefulness of the passport, which she describes as “European” rather than Hungarian. It is useful for the younger generation to do “whatever they want” and will open “new horizons” for them.

This nonspecific attitude toward EU citizenship—epitomized in the typical expression tov she’yesh (“it’s good to have”)—can be contrasted with the highly specific plans that Serbian applicants had for their Hungarian citizenship (e.g., study for a master’s degree in the Netherlands, join a cousin who lives and works in Sweden). The Israeli attitude was much closer to that of Mexican upper-middle-class parents, who had a general conception of US citizenship as potentially useful for their children, but could not anticipate more specific scenarios.

There was, however, a key difference that set Israeli citizenship applicants apart from Mexicans who practice strategic birth. Elite norteños are often intimately connected to the United States: they speak English, are familiar with American culture, and sometimes have relatives living there. Shopping, studying, and taking vacations in the United States are key practices that define the identity of the elite in northern Mexico. In contrast, Israelis do not see anything particularly exclusive about visiting Europe as tourists (it is the most common go-to destination, and people of all social classes visit there). An education from a European university is not considered as a mark of high status in Israel.44 There is no folk knowledge about the practical uses of the EU passports, and respondents had little knowledge of tuition rates, wage levels, or potential job opportunities in Europe.45 This explains the vague expressions cited above: “new horizons,” “opening doors,” and “whatever they want to do.”


In Israel, more than in the other cases in this study, compensatory citizenship is prized as a source of security. Many Israelis referred to their second passport as Te’udat bituah (insurance policy) against a range of apocalyptic scenarios. For example, as fifty-six-year-old Sarah, who obtained a Romanian passport for the sake of her daughter, explained her motivation: “With a European passport, she will be able to work and study in Europe, it opens up more options. And besides, it’s good to have another passport. We live in a very volatile country. Who knows what will happen here in ten years? Maybe [the Arabs] will throw us to the sea?” This explanation, which was typical, suggests that demand for citizenship is associated not only with immediate security concerns—of the kind that is responsible for the short-term spikes in demand that were portrayed above—but also with longer-term doubts about the very existence of Israel. (p.117) While existential anxiety has long characterized Israelis, the specific threats to Israel’s survival varied over time. For example, until the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, fears focused on the Egyptian and Syrian militaries and the promises of these countries’ leaders to “throw the Jews into the sea” (Sarah’s words above echo the terminology of those years). In the past decade, the most prevalent existential fear had to do with Iran’s nuclear program, and its leaders’ threats to “wipe Israel off the map”.46 Some respondents referred to other disastrous scenarios: a drastic escalation in the conflict with the Palestinians or a takeover of Israel by Jewish religious extremists.47

The respondents who were most interested in the protective capacity of the EU passport were second-generation applicants in their fifties and sixties. Beside the collective diasporic habitus that was discussed above, second-generation Ashkenazim typically had a direct personal reason that made them receptive to the concept of a life-saving document: their own parents’ experiences in the Holocaust as victims and refugees. For example, this is how Aviva, the fifty-four-year-old daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland and Germany, explained why she applied for her passport: “I applied for the German passport to secure a safe place for the children, and also for myself. … This is part of being second generation. In my parents’ generation, if you had the right papers you were saved, and if you didn’t, you were doomed. So I, as their child, internalized this message. You must always have some place that you can escape to.” This message that Aviva, a classic “second generation to the Holocaust,” internalized through the memories and traumas of her parents is the horror of statelessness. Persons without citizenship are deprived of “the right to have rights” (in Arendt’s terms) and do not enjoy the protection of any sovereign.48 In times of crisis, having the right documents meant having a right to live, and being without papers spelled a death sentence.49

This principle was made explicit as in the case of European Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. In the areas under Nazi control, Jews’ passports were marked with the letter J to single them out and signal that they did not enjoy the protection of the state. During the Holocaust, Jews without papers were the first to be rounded up and deported. For example, Vichy France quickly handed over Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland to the Nazi regime; Jews with French citizenship were deported at a later stage and had a much higher chance of survival. In Romania, authorities spared most of the country’s longstanding Jewish communities (with the exception of the 1941 Iasi pogrom) while exterminating Jews in the Soviet territories that it annexed. Bulgaria carefully protected its Jewish citizens from the Germans but did not object when the Germans deported the Jews of Macedonia to Auschwitz. Even in Germany, deportation to death camps was usually preceded by stripping the victim’s citizenship.50 Meanwhile, many Jews who managed to obtain passports or visas (p.118) from countries that were not under German occupation—including Spain, Japan, Sweden, or even Paraguay—have used them to escape to safety.51

Many survivors owed their rescue to whatever state documents they managed to obtain, including visas, immigration certificates and foreign passports. These events, even if they were not a direct part of the immigrant parent’s personal biography, left a strong impression and contributed to the perception that (the right) papers can save one from death. It is partly this lesson, combined with a preexisting diasporic habitus of flexible citizenship that conditions second-generation parents to seek out the protective capacity of the European passport.

The idea of an insurance policy was not limited to the older generation, but also came up in many interviews with younger respondents. Eli, a thirty-four-year-old government employee with German dual citizenship, said: “It’s hard for me to say this because I work for the government of Israel … [but] as a Jew and as third generation to the Holocaust, I feel that I must always have an insurance policy and backup. Even if the chance I will need it is tiny—and I believe it is—I still want to have it.” He added that“[the catastrophe] might be economic or demographic or security-related or political. We live in a world where [catastrophes] happen and I wouldn’t attribute it specifically to Israel. I would feel the same in any country that I lived in.”

This prevalent view of dual citizenship as the most rational response to insecurity stands in contradiction to classic Zionist thinking, which condemns the search for “insurance policies” and “escape routes” as the mark of the diasporic Jew living in Exile (Galut). In classic Zionist thinking, the State of Israel was supposed to provide the ultimate “insurance policy” that guarantees the survival of Jews, the one place where they do not need to secure a “route of escape.” The fact that Israelis seek out additional insurance suggests that some elements of the Jewish diasporic habitus have withstood the revaluation of values that Zionism aimed to achieve.52

Travel Freedom

Travel freedom was another major benefit that Israelis expected to gain from EU citizenship. The most direct gain in the global mobility of dual citizens relative to other Israelis has to do with visa-free access to the United States through electronic preregistration (ESTA). This program is available to citizens of most EU countries, including Germany and Hungary but not Poland, Romania, or Bulgaria (as of 2019). Israelis who have visa-exempt passports and use them to travel to the United States usually spoke about it with great satisfaction. An official at the Polish embassy reported that the most common question that new citizens asked her upon receiving their Polish passport was whether it allowed visa-free travel to the United States (they are disappointed when they find out it (p.119) doesn’t). This reflects Israelis’ much stronger cultural and practical orientation toward the United States and their limited interest in Europe.

The second domain where dual citizens may exercise their travel freedom is the EU itself. Israeli citizens are not required to obtain a visa before visiting Schengen-area countries and they are not subjected to strict controls at the border. Nonetheless, many dual citizens felt that the EU passport allowed them to enter Europe more freely. While only a small fraction of the Israeli dual citizen population actually used their new passports to emigrate, there was another, far more common, way for dual citizens to experience a boost in their mobility: presenting their EU passports when crossing borders in Europe.

As in Serbia, Israeli dual citizens were often excited about using their EU passports to enter European countries. The kind of emotions that Israeli respondents reported, however, was very different from Serbians’. Serbians with Hungarian passports felt liberated; their point of reference was their former selves who would wait for hours outside embassies in Belgrade, hoping to get a visa. With a Hungarian passport, they were at last equal to other Europeans. Israelis did not feel a sense of liberation when using their EU passports because the Israeli passport already allows visa-free and hassle-free movement around Europe. Instead, the most commonly cited sentiment was pleasure at being admitted to the EU-nationals line at European airports. Respondents’ answers suggested that they viewed the EU-nationals line as a kind of “VIP line.” Obviously, this sense of exclusive privilege and superiority does not arise out of the comparison to Europeans. It is aimed at other Israelis who must use the non-nationals line. In the next subsection, I will return to the topic of using the EU passport and discuss how it interacts with the structure of status in Israeli society.

The third category of destinations where the EU passport boosted Israelis’ mobility can be described as “the rest of the world.” When listing the potential destinations that they might visit thanks to their second passport, Israeli respondents were much more likely to mention countries outside Western Europe and North America. Many respondents said—half-jokingly—that they wished to visit Muslim-majority countries that did not admit Israeli citizens, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, and (less often) Middle Eastern destinations like Dubai.

While very few dual citizens are likely to ever actually visit any of those countries, their recurrent mention says two things. First, it highlights the Western self-understanding, income levels, and travel patterns of Israelis. Like travelers from Western Europe and North America, Israeli respondents were attracted to exotic destinations; in contrast, Mexican and Serbian travelers were interested in classic and “beautiful” destinations like Las Vegas, New York, or Paris. Second, the semifacetious desire to visit Arab and Muslim-majority countries reflects a reaction by Israelis to the sense of siege and exclusion that comes from being surrounded by hostile countries that they may only dream (p.120) of visiting. This feeling is expressed in the quotation of Nadav (vignette 2), who fantasized about using an EU passport to drive freely around the Middle East.

The EU passport may enhance global travel freedom in other ways besides allowing access to Muslim-majority countries. Even when traveling in countries that do admit Israeli citizens, some Israelis prefer to use their second passport to avoid attracting attention and criticism. Moreover, several respondents said that traveling with a European passport made them safer from terrorists, who often deliberately target Israelis and Jews.53 Some dual citizens said that their German or Polish passports might allow them to hide their identity and save themselves if they found themselves in the midst of a terrorist attack. Hiding one’s Jewish identity to save one’s life is of course a familiar idea for the children of Holocaust survivors. Ironically, the German passport now appeared as a potential lifesaver.

There was a recurrent phrase that seemed to express this sense of security in anonymity provided by dual citizenship: “With a European passport, you are a citizen of the world.” This is a surprising way of thinking about dual citizenship that would not occur to Mexican or Serbian respondents, who saw dual citizenship as a way of becoming US or European citizens. Why would Israelis with European passports describe themselves as “citizens of the world”?

On one level, the view of the passport as providing global rather than European citizenship simply reflects the fact that Israelis are more disposed to think in global rather than regional terms. Being suspended between Europe and the Middle East while not really belonging in either—they were not really part of any region. This led them to automatically think of European passports as something that could also be useful in the United States or Asia.

On a deeper level, we can view the expression “citizen of the world” as revealing something about the way that Israelis conceive of their own Israeli citizenship. The word “citizen” here is not used in the ordinary sense, as “a full member who enjoys full rights”; instead, “citizen” should be understood as “someone who is accepted and tolerated.” Israeli citizens do not see themselves as “citizens of the world” qua Israelis. Not only are there many countries that they are barred from entering, but even visits to friendly countries are fraught with anxiety about being attacked or criticized for their nationality (the Israeli media, by intensively covering such incidents, play a major role in stoking this sense of siege). In this context, the second passport allows Israelis to be received abroad with benevolent indifference. As one respondent put it, “I want the Romanian passport so I can be free from the burden of being Israeli when I’m abroad.”

(p.121) Dual Citizenship as Social Closure: Reclaiming Ashkenazi Privilege

Third-generation dual citizens receive their European passports as gifts from their parents. Nevertheless, they tend to see their passports as pieces of individual property to be used for their personal advancement. As I showed above, most third-generation dual citizens do not take advantage of the opportunity to work or study in Europe. Nevertheless, they are convinced that European passports are a good thing to have, and they speak about them with pride. Many felt that possession of a European passport was an exclusive privilege that signaled social distinction.

The perception of an EU passport as status symbol is rooted in the Israeli system of class and ethnic stratification. Ashkenazi Jews of CEE origin are considered to be the most privileged group in Israel, while Israelis of other origins—Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern descent, Russian-speaking Jews, and Arabs—are relatively underprivileged.

Until the late 1970s, Ashkenazim enjoyed undisputed political and cultural dominance in Israel.54 Historically, two discourses were used to justify Ashkenazi dominance: one was an ideology of republican virtue, which stratified societal groups according to their contribution to the Israeli collective. This view placed the predominantly-Ashkenazi “serving elite” of settlers and fighters (epitomized in the kibbutz) at the top of the prestige hierarchy. The second source of legitimation was a modernizing, Eurocentric discourse that constructed Ashkenazi Jews as modern and “European” in opposition to Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) Jews, who were seen as “oriental” and less developed.55 Since the 1980s, secular Ashkenazim no longer enjoy a monopolistic political hegemony, as multiple groups compete over the state’s resources and the power to determine its cultural orientation.56 Nevertheless, Ashkenazim remain the most privileged sector in terms of income and education.57

This shift—from hegemonic group to elite—has shaped the divergent perspectives of the second and third generations on Israeli society. Second-generation Ashkenazim grew up in the 1950s and 1960s as members of the group that defined the Israeli mainstream. In contrast, their third-generation children, who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, lived through the historic change whereby their ethno-class group was transformed from hegemonic majority into elite minority.58 The sociologist Orna Sasson-Levy argues that this change in social position went hand in hand with a change in self-understanding. Older Ashkenazi Jews saw themselves as “simply Israeli” while casting all other groups as “minority sects.” Younger Israelis of Ashkenazi origin perceive themselves as one sector among several. Status stratification on the basis of republican virtue and service to the nation has declined in importance, while the Eurocentric-modernizing discourse has gained more resonance. Many young secular (p.122) Ashkenazim identify themselves as Western while looking down on other sectors (Mizrahim, Russian speakers, religious Jews, and Arabs) that are viewed as less modern and developed.

This pattern was evident in the interviews with third-generation respondents.59 Their claim to social prestige drew on privileged access to Europe and the West and was often coupled with a desire to distance themselves from the Israeli mainstream. Many young respondents characterized themselves as individualistic, liberal, and open-minded, while contrasting these values with most other Israelis, who they described as nationalistic and primitive. The European passport came up during the interviews as a rhetorical prop that reinforces this self-presentation.

Shlomit, a thirty-year-old German dual citizen, said that she was happy to have a German passport because it made her into “an Israeli with an alternative, someone who has the option of leaving.” Yariv, another third-generation respondent, said, “My [Hungarian] passport is a provocation against this thing they keep telling us, that we have no other country.” Most respondents preferred not to address directly the gap between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. A few of them, however, did make explicit references to this topic. Dror, a twenty-eight-year-old Hungarian-Israeli, said: “In some sense [the passport] does feel like a membership in an exclusive club. What would you prefer to belong to—the European Union or the Arab League?”

Younger Israelis were eager to discuss their EU citizenship and enjoyed laying out their family histories and their views on the topic. This was markedly different from Serbia and Mexico, where most respondents did not find the phenomenon interesting and were not eager to talk about it. Moreover, many young respondents referred to EU citizenship as “magniv.” This is a slang word that roughly correlates with “cool”: something that is magniv is good because it expresses its owner’s uniqueness and character (it is also used by Nadav in vignette 2).

For young Israelis, speaking about their EU passports displays high status in three ways: 1) it demonstrates that they belong to the high-status Ashkenazi group, 2) allows them to put rhetorical distance between themselves and other Israelis (“I have an alternative”), and 3) suggests some degree of uniqueness and sophistication. The European passport, then, is a performative device, part of an array of Ashkenazi strategies of social distinction.60 One of the main things that Israelis do with European citizenship is to talk about it. In the coming years, as increasing numbers of Sepharadic Jews acquire Spanish and Portuguese passports, EU passports are expected to lose their unique association with Ashkenazim—although not necessarily their association with high social status.

Interestingly, the distance that respondents put between themselves and “mainstream Israel” did not make them identify themselves as less Israeli. On the contrary, the recurring response to interview questions about their (p.123) identity was that they felt “100 percent Israeli.” Moreover, third-generation respondents spoke of their connection to the nation in surprisingly visceral and deterministic terms. Yariv said, “I carry this genetic disease of being Israeli, my mental structure is in Hebrew and I could never leave Tel Aviv completely, even if I tried to live abroad.” Sivan, a thirty-year-old German-Israeli dual citizen, said: “When I spent a summer in Germany, I realized how Israeli I was. I couldn’t identify with [the Germans]. I sit like an Israeli, gesticulate like an Israeli, talk like an Israeli, I think differently from them.”

In those quotations, being Israeli is an embodied, indelible characteristic that is inscribed in one’s mental structure, language, and even bodily posture. Respondents framed the differences between Israelis and non-Israelis in ethnocultural terms, not in spiritual or racial terms: none of them said that Israelis had different souls or different bodies. Nevertheless, they saw these differences as solid enough to make assimilation into any other culture impossible. This essentialist, unconditional manner of understanding their own Israeli identity is an important element in the generational value shift away from a traditional Zionist view that conditions Israeli national identity on residence and exclusive allegiance.

Precisely because third-generation respondents saw their belonging to Israel an indelible part of their minds and bodies, they refused to accept that any action on their part—including the acceptance of another citizenship or leaving Israel—would make them less Israeli. This confidence in being “100 percent Israeli” is the basis for the gap between them and their parents: whereas second-generation parents were ashamed to be dual citizens, their third-generation children were proud to have a second passport. It is an attitude that echoes the approach of young ethnic Hungarians in Serbia (chapter 2), who claimed that there was no connection between their Hungarian identity and whether or not they held citizenship from Hungary.

Alongside everyday conversations, there was another social site where European citizenship could be converted into an experience of social distinction: passport controls at European airports. For example, twenty-eight-year-old Omer explained that one of the main reasons he obtained his Czech passport was because “it allows me easy access to European countries—you don’t need to stamp it and all that, just show it and go through.” This was typical of third-generation respondents. Although the amount of time that EU citizens save rarely exceeds ten minutes, the experience of taking the EU-nationals line came up in many interviews, and numerous respondents rhapsodized about the “pleasures” of taking it.

If the preoccupation with lines and stamps seems petty, it must be remembered that situations like the passport-control line, where people are hierarchically arranged in space, are a prominent site for the display of status differences. For many young Ashkenazim, this is essentially what the European passport is (p.124) about: not having to stand in the same line with other Israelis. This is illustrated by the story told by Yariv, a twenty-nine-year-old from Tel-Aviv. Using his Hungarian passport to gain access to the EU-nationals line, he said, is “one of my greatest pleasures when I visit Europe.” He continued: “On my last flight to Europe, I arrived in Spain on a plane full of charter-flight passengers who at best could get a Moroccan passport. And of course they all tried to get into the shorter EU-nationals line, but the local gendarmes drove them back. I went right through, while the other Israelis stayed there for another ten minutes. Now that was fun.”

In this account, the European passport appears as a global status symbol that reaffirms Israeli class boundaries along the familiar lines of ethnicity (“Moroccan passport,” alluding to the Middle Eastern origin of the other Israeli passengers), patterns of consumption (“charter flights” are all-included deals popular with lower-class Israelis), and “civilized” behavior (“they” are barbarically trying to push themselves into the line where they do not belong). The European law enforcer, by deciding who to let through and who to push away, provides objective, state-sanctioned validation to the distinction between those Israelis who are “European” and worthy, and those who are “non-European” and of lesser worth. As the interviews made clear, many dual citizens think of the EU-nationals line as a VIP line: what makes it prestigious is the fact that other Israelis are not allowed to use it. The European passport serves as a portable status symbol that allows dual citizens to reproduce Israeli ethno-class hierarchy abroad and experience it in terms of an objectively justified global order.


Since the year 2000, over 85,000 Israelis have acquired citizenship from CEE countries. Applicants had no interest in becoming German or Polish and saw their second citizenship as having no bearing on their national identity. Their primary motivation was to gain a “European passport” that will give them access to opportunities in the EU and global freedom of movement. The analysis of trends in citizenship applications suggests another reason: Israelis seek EU citizenship in the context of geopolitical insecurity and demand surges in response to wars and terrorist attacks. Migration statistics, however, reveal that few Israeli dual citizens actually use their passports to move to Europe, whether for security or economic reasons.

This highlights the importance of noneconomic, nonpractical motivations in shaping Israeli demand for EU citizenship. These motivations vary between the two generations involved in the phenomenon. Second-generation parents appropriate the passport for the service of the family; for them, an additional passport is an “insurance policy,” a view conditioned by Jewish life in the diaspora and reinforced by the grandparent generation’s experiences in the Holocaust. In (p.125) addition, EU citizenship serves as an intergenerational transfer of wealth and a gift that reinforces the cohesion of the family. For the younger generation, the passport is a useful piece of private property that broadens their opportunities in the global market of labor and education. It also operates as a status symbol: the European passport is talked about and displayed in a way that demonstrates its bearer’s Ashkenazi origin and personal sophistication.

Within the context of this comparative framework, EU-Israeli dual citizenship represents a case of compensatory citizenship that was acquired on the basis of ancestry. It has several features that set it apart from the Serbian and Mexican cases; most of them would also supposedly be found in other cases of ancestry-based dual citizenship—for example, in Brazil or Argentina.

Unlike in Serbia and Mexico, in Israel the second citizenship is not acquired from a neighboring country and is detached from a context of ongoing migration. This entails a much greater cultural distance from the granting country. Moreover, the procedure of acquiring citizenship on the basis of ancestry does little to bridge that distance. Whereas strategic applicants in Serbia and Mexico must undertake a difficult (and sometimes risky) personal journey in order to obtain citizenship—studying a new language, giving birth in a foreign country—in Israel, seekers of citizenship do not have to modify any part of their identity or lifestyle.61 They must only secure bureaucratic recognition of their family’s preexisting legal status and kinship ties. Most applicants do not even handle the procedure themselves: they only locate whatever documents they have and pay a lawyer to do the rest.

In the experience of those applicants, then, acquiring EU citizenship is an almost naked exchange of money for passports. This attitude is reinforced by the highly commercialized nature of the industry around EU citizenship. The relative affordability of EU citizenship makes it into a casual middle-class consumption article. These factors explain the highly instrumental and economic relation of Israelis to their EU citizenship. German or Romanian citizenship is not experienced as an identity-relevant legal status that binds them to a certain collective, but rather as a piece of private property, which is obtained through a process of restitution that costs money (but no special effort) and bears the form of a concrete physical object—the European passport—that is only loosely national.


(4.) Gónzalez 2018; Liphshiz 2018a; d’Oliveira 2015. Additional information obtained through an interview conducted in October 2018 with an Israeli lawyer who deals with the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship.

(7.) In a survey by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Pardo (2009), 40 percent of respondents said that they were eligible for EU citizenship. This leads to an estimate of 2.5 million potentially eligible individuals. A calculation based on CBS statistics produced a similar figure. The same survey also reported that 4 percent already had EU citizenship. Note that not every Israeli with CEE ancestry is actually eligible for citizenship. This calculation does not take into account Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, which have been available since 2015, and which extend hypothetical eligibility by 3 to 3.5 million persons.

(13.) Shachar 1999; Kalekin-Fishman 2007; Herzog 2010b; Harpaz and Herzog 2018. In contrast, non-Jewish immigrants who wish to naturalize in Israel must fulfill residence and language requirements and renounce their original citizenship. Dual citizenship never became a politically contentious issue in Israel, and there have been no serious proposals in the parliament to restrict it. There are, however, numerous limitations on dual citizens: they cannot serve as members of parliament or serve in some sensitive security positions.

(16.) Hailbronner 2010. In those years, Germany prohibited dual citizenship but made an exception for German Jews and their descendants: since the Nazi law that stripped them of citizenship was deemed illegal, it was decided that they had an unconditional right to regain it.

(17.) The emergent discourse of restitution in Poland is focused on those who emigrated and were stripped of citizenship in the context of anti-Semitic persecutions in 1968. Plocker 2008; Gorny and Pudzianowka 2010.

(18.) Estimate based on statistics that I have obtained from the embassies of European countries in Israel or from government websites. I obtained statistics from the following countries: Austria, (p.169) Bulgaria, Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and Britain. There are large numbers of Israelis who hold a second citizenship from France (at least 75,000) and Britain (at least 70,000). This is a minimum estimate because figures are missing for some countries, and figures for some countries might be higher than reported here.

(19.) Data received upon request from European consulates in Israel, in addition to Liphshitz 2018b, Times of Israel 2017.

(20.) For a more detailed, comparative analysis of time variation in citizenship acquisitions, see Harpaz 2015.

(21.) I found no such correlation with economic factors like growth rate or unemployment rates, or with the level of emigration.

(24.) In 1990–94, the average migration balance of Israelis (the number of Israelis who returned from abroad minus Israelis who left, without counting new immigrants) was-2.6 per 1,000 per year. The same rate was found for the years 2000–2004. In 2010–14, the rate was-0.85 per 1,000 per year. Source: Israeli CBS migration statistics, population totals from http://worldpopulationreview.com.

(26.) In 2015, there were about 85,000 Israeli-born persons living in all European countries put together, and they constituted 32% of Israeli-born living abroad. This represents an increase relative to 2000, when only 55,000 Israeli-born lived in Europe, and they constituted 29% of all Israeli emigrants. For the sake of comparison, in 2015 there were 135,000 Israeli-born in the United States (52% of all Israeli emigrants), up from 110,000 in 2000. Source: United Nations Population Division (UNPD): “International Migrant Stock 2000, by Destination and Origin”; “International Migrant Stock 2015, by Destination and Origin.” http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates15.shtml.

(27.) According to the Polish citizenship law that was in force until 1951, Poles who served in a foreign military lost their Polish citizenship.

(28.) Not everyone whose ancestors immigrated from European countries is eligible for citizenship. Eligibility for citizenship may be created in two ways: either the immigrant parent/grandparent has never lost her citizenship (and then it was transmitted jure sanguinis to their descendants in Israel) or they have lost it illegally and may now regain it. If, on the other hand, they lost their citizenship legally, they may not regain it. There is a random element here that depends upon countries’ changing citizenship laws. For example, many Jews who left Poland in the 1950s have never lost their citizenship and simply have to reactivate it; those who left in 1968 were stripped of their citizenship in a procedure that Poland’s current government considers flawed and may apply for its return. However, Polish citizens who served in the Israeli military between 1948 and 1951 have automatically lost their Polish citizenship and cannot reacquire it. Most German Jews were stripped of citizenship by the Nazis and may now regain it. In Romania, as in Poland, both situations exist. I will set aside this criterion because it is of no sociological interest. It is impossible to determine precisely what proportion of European-origin Israelis are potentially eligible for citizenship but it appears that they are the majority.

(29.) Some Israelis actually study Hungarian for the sake of citizenship. They remain, however, a small minority among dual citizens. None of the respondents I have interviewed had studied any language or made an ethnic performance for the sake of citizenship.

(30.) Dumbrava 2014a, b.

(31.) Such “bureaucratic cleansing” is typical of other cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing. For example, it was practiced by fascist Croatia against some of the Serbs in its territory.

(p.170) (32.) See Harpaz 2009.

(33.) Such sentiments were very common among applicants for Polish, Hungarian or Romanian citizenship, and far less typical of applicants for German citizenship. This resulted from the far greater order and professionalism in the German embassy but also—ironically—with the fact that many German Jewish families had an ambivalent relation to Germany, whereas other Ashkenazim often had an entirely negative view of their origin country.

(34.) Alongside this view, some respondents also justified their right to citizenship in less economistic terms. Some of them said that they deserved citizenship because their immigrant parent or grandparent was born in the granting country and spoke its language.

(35.) None of the respondents used these generational terms to refer to their family’s duration in Israel. Moreover, Israelis who were born in Europe after 1945 are also referred to as “second generation.” Several respondents used the full expression and referred to themselves as “second/third generation to the Holocaust,” as a way of explaining various complexes and anxieties.

(36.) Bourdieu notes that a crucial element in the construction of the family in Western capitalist societies is the separation between the logic of the market, which is based on calculation and interests, and the logic of the family, which is supposedly based on pure love and free from overt calculation and expectation for repayment. Viviana Zelizer, in her work, has shown how this ideology—which she calls “hostile worlds”—masks the tremendous importance of economic transfers and exchanges in any kind of intimate relationship. Bourdieu 1988, Zelizer 2005.

(39.) The key role of cooperative family strategies in the social and economic advancement of Jewish immigrants was documented in the United States. Silverman 1988.

(40.) Such guides were published in the popular websites Ynet and Walla as well as the Achbar Ha’Ir, which is a local Tel-Aviv culture weekly. See Goldstein and Barzilay 2004; Walla 2005; Halperin 2011.

(43.) See Kranz 2015.

(44.) Note, however, that several thousands of Israelis study medical professions in Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, or Romania (attending English-language private programs) or pursue advanced degrees in Western European universities.

(45.) Respondents believed that a “European passport” gave them the right to free university education in any European country. In fact, citizenship has no effect on tuition in France or Germany, and EU citizens who did not live in Europe were not eligible for a reduced fee in Britain. In contrast, Mexican respondents were usually aware of the costs of studying in the United States and the reduced fee for Texas-born students at Texas institutions. Serbians knew about wages in Western Europe and had some idea about what jobs were available there.

(47.) The latter scenario mirrors the concerns about religious extremism that were voiced by members of the secular elite in Turkey who strategically gave birth in the United States. Balta and Altan-Olcay 2016.

(49.) Foucault 1978, 2009; Agamben 1998.

(53.) Recent examples include the 2008 attack in Mumbai as well as suicide bombings against Israelis in Bulgaria in 2012 and in Istanbul in 2016. Historically, there were incidents when terrorists (p.171) would release most hostages and keep only Israelis and Jews; this was done most famously in the Air France flight that was hijacked to Entebbe in 1976.

(59.) Obviously, the association between Ashkenazi origin and EU citizenship will weaken in the coming years, as more Sepharadic-origin Israelis acquire EU passports from Spain and Portugal.

(60.) Cf. Bourdieu 1984.

(61.) Of course, ethnic Hungarians in Serbia do not have to make any special effort to acquire citizenship.