By Daphna Berman
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) has expressed outrage at U.S. insurance companies that deny life insurance coverage to Americans who plan to visit Israel or have done so in the past.
"AACI is appalled at this terrible treatment," AACI Executive Director David London said this week.
According to recent reports, insurance carriers in several states have denied life insurance coverage to policyholders on the basis of past travel to Israel or plans to visit Israel in the future, on the grounds that such travel constitutes risky behavior. The Tourism Ministry, which had been unaware of the phenomenon, has announced plans to look into the matter. "The ministry views the removal of all restrictions on tourists interested in coming to Israel with great importance," ministry spokesperson Shira Kaveh said.
When her insurance provider, AIG, denied life insurance coverage to U.S. Congressional Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, because she announced plans to visit Israel, she went into action. Wasserman Schultz sponsored a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit discrimination in life insurance coverage related to "future lawful travel."
Last week, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate. "It is just unfair for people to be denied life insurance because they might travel to Israel," Schumer told the New York Post. Similar bills have been proposed in nine U.S. states.
The U.S. State Department urges citizens to defer travel to the West Bank and avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, but in Israel and Jerusalem, tourists are urged to "remain mindful of security factors."
"More than 200,000 Americans call Israel their home and it's a shame that the companies are doing this," London of AACI said. "Many olim have life insurance policies in the U.S. or have family and friends who want to visit."
In response, AIG said the company "provides life insurance, as well as accident and health and travel insurance, to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who travel to Israel. All coverage decisions are determined by statistical risk analysis and other objective criteria. AIG is opposed to discrimination in any form, and our goal is to provide life insurance coverage whenever and wherever possible.
"AIG is also committed to its business operations in Israel - and throughout the Middle East - and we recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary in that country. We employ more than 700 persons who provide life, general and other insurance coverage to the people of Israel," the company said in a statement. John Hancock, another U.S. insurance provider that has denied coverage to policyholders because of Israel travel, did not respond by press time.