The Interior Ministry is investigating why forms tourists must fill out before entering Israel have begun requiring visitors to list their religion.
Ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellinson said the question, which accompanies standard queries about the length of stay, purpose of the visit, and passport information, has appeared on new forms only in the past few weeks.
This coincides with the appointment of a new head of Population Registry, Sasi Katzir, and both the registry and ministry are trying to find out who created and distributed the new questionnaires.
Ellinson said she has received several calls from individuals concerned about the new forms, though she added that many tourists have continued to receive the old forms without the question about religious affiliation.
Cheryl Jacobs Lewin was one visitor who did get the new form – and wasn’t happy about it.
“It really shook me and shocked me,” said Jacobs, who has frequently visited and, as co-chair of the Chicago and Midwestern United States board of Shaare Zedek Hospital, arrived here Thursday for the dedication of the new emergency room on Monday.
“I really resented the question,” she said, noting that she didn’t fill it out. “I’ve never been asked that before. I don’t know what they do in other countries, but in the United States of America I don’t have to answer that question.”
Fellow Chicagoan Chava Birulin also refused to answer the question, and like Lewin was not pressed on the point by border officers. Even so, she said that the practice could alienate foreigners coming to a country that is begging for visitors.
“I imagine that most American tourists would be offended by that question,” she said. “It could hurt tourism.”
Speaking while returning from a trip to Rachel’s Tomb and Hebron, she reinforced her point by adding, “We’re not even sensitive left-wingers.”
The questions itself is “silly,” she said, because it’s not as if someone with evil intentions would answer the questions truthfully. “If someone’s a terrorist they’re not going to say, ‘I’m a fundamentalist Muslim and a card-carrying member of Hizbullah.'”
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