I have alluded in past blogs to issues of racism as determining if the application of a potential Oleh, who is a convert to Judaism, would be approved by the Interior Ministry for Aliyah. I have tried to hint at some of the issues faced by people of color and I have provided some examples. But there has been no apparent improvement in the situation. For years I ascribed the problem to the many bureaucrats who were appointed by Shas to fill the jobs within the ministry. I still place much of the blame there. But no longer is the Interior Minister a member of Shas. Indeed he is a member of the ruling Likud party. Efforts to discuss the continued difficulties so many potential Olim are having have met with no response from his office.
So let me just spell out some examples of racism for the consideration of the reader. The charge I am making is not denominationally based. Most of the difficulties in receiving approval for Aliyah are no longer related the movement in which the person converted to Judaism. The color of one’s skin is a major determining factor.
Last year it took a monumental effort to reverse a decision that denied Aliyah to the many Peruvian Jews by Choice who had prepared to become Jewish over a five year period. These Jews are not “white.”
I worked for over a year to obtain approval for a young Jew from Kaifeng who wished to make Aliyah and serve in the army. Shin had studied for four years in a religious high school in Israel. He was unable to convert at that time as the Interior Ministry grants preciously few conversion visas to those who skin color is not white. Shin did eventually convert with a Masorti Beit Din. The other students from Kaifeng are not being considered seriously for approval .None of them is “white.”
I first encountered the racism when trying to help African-American Jews by Choice who sought to make Aliyah – their right under the Law of Return. It was only through letter writing, legal pressure, and continuously hectoring IM officials that some were granted Status as Olim. Others were left hanging in Israel – with no right to work or to receive Kupat Holim. Even more were stuck in the States having, in some cases, sold a home or left a job. There are still many files involving African Americans, who have all of the relevant documentation demanded by the IM, which are still “under investigation.” Let me translate this phrase “under investigation.” It means that the file will sit somewhere forever, yes forever, unless there is legal or political intervention.
About two years ago a young man from the Abuyadaya Jewish community in Uganda applied to study at the Conservative Yeshiva here in Jerusalem. The fight for his student visa lasted nine months. During that time he proved that his conversion met the demands of the law (Jewish and Israel) and had provided all of the necessary paperwork to the IM. In the end, nine month after he first applied, his visa was approved although he was charged the 175 NIS fee that only non-Jewish students are charged. I cannot begin to count the number of letters and phone calls that preceded the approval for his student visa.
Here it is a year later and another Jew from Uganda wishes to come to Israel – this time to fulfill his Zionist dream by making his home here. He applied through the Jewish Agency, provided all of the letters and certificates needed, and now writes to me every so often to find out why nobody from the Interior Ministry lets him know where he stands.
I have been informed that he IM needs to look into the conversions that took place in Uganda. But they did exactly that when the first of the Abuyadaya applied. It is a Jewish community with a full time rabbi (ordained by the Ziegler Rabbinical School), Jewish school, synagogues, Mikveh, and more. The rabbi is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. The community is affiliated with Masorti Olami. I was involved in the conversion of this young man and my signature appears on his certificate of conversion. For the IM to look into the conversion would require little more than a phone call to me. But my phone is not ringing. Angered by my past suggestions of racism – files will sit as the peeved bureaucrats will not put pettiness behind.
Representatives of the Masorti Movement, the Reform Movement, liberal Orthodox, and the Jewish Agency will all back up my words – were they not concerned that they would then be next to have nobody at the IM take their calls.
So what is to be done? I am sending a copy of this blog to Gidon Saar, the Minister of the Interior. I call upon the Minister to meet with those of us involved in assisting Jews by Choice to make Aliyah. Let us set a meeting with representatives from the major denominations and the Jewish Agency.
I know that Zionism is not racist. Lets make sure that the bureaucrats within the government are not.