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Journalist Makes Misleading Claim About Israelis and Dual Citizenship
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Journalist Makes Misleading Claim About Israelis and Dual Citizenship

Most Israeli Jews hold only a single passport.

(Photograph from Getty Images.)

The Associated Press reported this week that the Maldives, a small archipelagic state south of India, will ban Israeli passport holders from visiting the country because of opposition among its majority Muslim populace to Israeli military activity in Gaza. In response, Richard Medhurst, a British-Syrian journalist who writes for outlets including Al Jazeera, Al Mayadeen, and Russia Today, posted that Israelis could use passports from their home countries instead. “Don’t worry, they can use their 1st passport from their original country,” Medhurst wrote.

The post is indicative of the sentiment—held by some opponents of Israeli statehood—that modern Israelis are colonialist Europeans who have the option of returning to their home countries. It’s also misleading: While hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants made their way to the historical land of Israel during the 19th and 20th centuries, the vast majority of modern Israelis were born in Israel and do not hold dual citizenship.

The Jewish people have maintained a consistent presence in the region of modern Israel since at least 1050 B.C. A significant portion of the world’s Jewish population existed for thousands of years in foreign diaspora across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The widespread immigration of European Jews back to their ancestral homeland—primarily a response to the growing persecution of Jewish communities across Europe—began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in several waves known as the five Aliyahs. The majority of this immigration occurred after the 1920 establishment of British rule in the region. By the start of World War II in 1939, approximately 450,000 Jews had made the journey. After Israel was formally established as a state in 1948, another large wave of immigration began when, during the Arab-Israeli War, more than 850,000 Jews were expelled from neighboring majority Muslim countries.

According to data from the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Israel’s population has grown from approximately 800,000 in 1948 to more than 9.9 million in 2024. Israeli Jews make up about 73 percent of the country’s population, of which 78 percent were originally born in Israel. Though many are descended from European refugees, a 2018 study in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies estimated that approximately 45 percent of Israeli Jews identify as Mizrahi, a term used to describe members or descendants of Middle Eastern Jews.

The Israeli government does not provide official data on the percentage of Israelis who hold dual citizenship, but some estimates do exist. CCLEX, an association of global immigration lawyers, estimated in 2019 that about 10 percent of Israelis held more than one passport. A 2018 paper in the International Migration Review by Princeton University researcher Yossi Harpaz found that approximately 344,000 Israelis held dual citizenship with an EU country, and a 2023 story by the Times of Israel reported that more than 200,000 Israelis held dual American citizenship. 

According to Harpaz, however, the small number of Israelis who hold dual citizenship do so mostly for the specific benefits of the passport itself, and these passports are not “first passports” from Israelis’ “original countries.” Israelis who have at least one ancestor from a European country, such as Poland, Romania, or Germany, often qualify for citizenship by descent, meaning they can acquire passports from countries that they, their parents, and even their grandparents never resided in. Israelis who acquire these passports often do so after becoming adults, meaning they were born with Israeli citizenship and only gained a second passport later on.

“The vast majority of European-Israeli dual citizens continue to live in Israel and do not seriously consider immigration to Europe or a ‘return’ to their countries of origin,” Harpaz writes. EU passports, for example, allow visa-free travel through the entirety of the EU and access to many European universities on the same terms as local nationals. “The European passport is used by Israelis to promote their individual and family interests: as an economic advantage, an intergenerational gift, a status symbol and an ‘insurance policy,” Harpaz explains.

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Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.