‘I was ripped off and held to ransom at Ben Gurion Airport’
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‘I was ripped off and held to ransom at Ben Gurion Airport’

Cilla Goldberger tells of her traumatic ordeal at Israel's main international airport, where she was detained until she paid £900 in cash for an alleged unsettled debt

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Cilla Goldberger
Cilla Goldberger

A London Jewish woman says she has been “ripped off and held to ransom” by Israeli authorities after she was prevented from leaving Tel Aviv last week until she paid — in cash — nearly £900 for an alleged unsettled debt.

But Cilla Goldberger, who runs a small business travel company in London with headquarters in Tiberias, still has not been told what the debt is for — and is adamant that she does not owe the money.

An attempt to clarify the situation has been made even more difficult because the TV licencing authority, to which Ms Goldberger was obliged to pay, has gone into liquidation.

And the Israeli Embassy in London is now closed until further notice because of a global dispute between the Foreign Ministry and Israel’s Ministry of Finance — so Ms Goldberger’s efforts to prove that she is not responsible for the debt have been caught in “a bureaucratic nightmare”.

Ms Goldberger, UK-born, last lived in Israel in 2001. After her divorce her ex-husband returned to Israel and she resumed living in London. But Israeli law says those who hold citizenship must travel on their Israeli passports, even if they have dual nationality. On Saturday (October 26), she was stopped at passport control at Ben-Gurion Airport because her Israeli passport would not scan.

Cilla Goldberger

She was informed by the border control officers that there was a warrant out to stop her leaving the country, and told it related to an open debt. Ms Goldberger, who last visited Israel in March 2018, was told that the debt had been incurred between 2009 and 2011. But though she repeatedly said she had not lived in Israel since 2001, she was told she would not be allowed to leave until the debt — 3,600 shekels — was paid in cash. “I was given no choice,” she told Jewish News.

Israel’s press counsellor in London, Ohad Zemet, said that the Enforcement Authority in Tel Aviv (which issued the warrant) was “familiar with the case” but that everything had been done “legally. She can now file an appeal”, he said.

Ms Goldberger, on her return to London, has now been in touch with a lawyer for the Enforcement Authority and told that the licensing authority which was claiming the debt had now gone into liquidation. She has now been asked to provide documentation proving that she was not living in Israel when the debt was incurred — but this process may take months, exacerbated by the closure of the embassies and consulates around the world.

Ms Goldberger described the experience as “mortifying and humiliating”. Even if the money is finally refunded, she says she will be out of pocket because of exchange rates — and she has been told that there is little chance of any compensation.

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