Several foreigners arriving from South Africa on Friday were blocked from entering the country, after the government introduced new measures to curb the spread of Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant. Among them were visitors who had come to pay their respects to the family of Eliyahu David Kay, who was murdered in a Jerusalem terror attack last week.
The two, along with three others, had departed from South Africa before the new restrictions banning foreign visitors from much of Africa were announced Thursday night. All five, who were Jewish, were forced to leave on a flight on Friday that forced them violate the Jewish Sabbath, despite pleading with officials to allow them to stay until after the holy day, they told Walla news.
Ilana Smith, a friend of Kay’s mother, said the passengers were “treated like we were criminals. We asked questions and they shouted at us to shut up and not ask questions. I told them I couldn’t desecrate Shabbat and they told me I’d be arrested if I didn’t board the plane. I didn’t eat for 24 hours and for the first time in my life I desecrated Shabbat.”
Brian Blumnau, a friend of Kay’s brother, said he supported measures to save lives, “but we flew out before the decision… I didn’t even know about the decision. As a Jew and a Zionist who supports Israel, I’d expect leaders to hear us and not throw us out to board a plane on the eve of Shabbat. A Jewish state shouldn’t do such a thing.”
Former MK Dov Lipman, the founder of Yad L’Olim who worked with the five South Africans, said that while he backs measures to protect public health, he was shocked “by the lack of consideration as a Jewish statute and basic humane activity in this story… I spent all Friday afternoon fighting for these people, who did not violate any rules. They left South Africa before the new rules were announced. How is it possible that our leaders on the highest of levels who I reached and spoke to forced these Jews to violate Shabbat and treated them in this manner?”
He added: “Had this happened in a country like the USA and people said that it violated their religious beliefs, a solution would have been found. And the Jewish state couldn’t do so? I am ashamed by this and hope leaders will learn from this and will never allow this to happen again.”
On Thursday night the government banned arrivals from several African nations in an attempt to prevent the spread in Israel of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. On Saturday night it banned virtually all foreigners for a period of two weeks as it assesses the threat posed by the new strain.
Responding to the decision, Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein called on the government to allow all Jews entry into Israel with a negative PCR coronavirus test.
“Don’t close the state of Israel to us!” he said in a statement. “The Jewish state is the home of all Jews, especially in times of crisis.”
He said a total closure of Israel’s borders, including to non-Israeli Jews, “signals to Jewish communities that they, from Israel’s perspective, they are second-class Jews.”
Kay, 26, a recent immigrant from South Africa who was employed at the Western Wall as a tour guide, was shot dead last Sunday in Jerusalem’s Old City. Thousands of people participated in his funeral on Monday.
Kay had been walking to work when the terrorist, East Jerusalem resident Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, a Hamas activist, opened fire and fatally wounded him. Four other people were wounded. Abu Shkhaydam was shot dead by police at the scene following a brief gun battle.
Before working at the Western Wall, Kay had volunteered in Kibbutz Nirim in southern Israel for a year.