After stormy Knesset c'tee debate, solution reached on Venezuelan converts' aliya

The nine Venezuelans, who went through a Conservative conversion, will immediately be converted again by a Conservative rabbi and then be allowed to come straight to Israel on A5 visas.

January 31, 2017 12:41
3 minute read.
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THE JERUSALEM conversion office of the Chief Rabbinate – once the majority of Israeli citizens no longer connect to the Jewish nature of Israel, we will be left with a soulless country that is constantly fighting for its very existence.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A stormy and emotional debate hosted by the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Tuesday morning, resulted in a solution on the issue of nine Venezuelan Jewish converts whose applications for aliya were denied.

The Interior Ministry said that the applicants did not meet the requirements for converts to make aliya due to a lack of affiliation to a recognized Jewish community prior to their conversions.

The solution reached Tuesday was that the nine Venezuelans, who had gone through a Conservative conversion, would immediately be converted again by a Conservative rabbi and would then be allowed to come straight to Israel on A5 visas.

They would they be required to complete their conversions, again, in Israel - a process which takes at least nine months. After that, they will be permitted to change their status to immigrants.

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), who initiated the Knesset discussion welcomed the decision with tears in her eyes as her voice cracked with emotion. But she expressed deep regret, saying she was "outraged at the humiliation that Conservative Jews are required to pass," a sentiment echoed by leaders of the Conservative and Masorti movements who were present at the meeting, and believe that Orthodox converts would have received different treatment - a claim refuted by Interior Ministry representatives.

"This is a humanitarian case. These are our fellow Jews, brothers and sisters whose lives  are in danger. What happened to the brotherhood of Jews in the Diaspora?" Cohen Paran asked.

"Where is our concern for our brothers in the Diaspora? We must allow them to come to Israel immediately, particularly due to special circumstances," she continued. "The Law of Return does not differentiate between the nature of the conversion process, Orthodox or Conservative conversions are recognized, and these Jews are entitled to immigrate to Israel.

"We see a different policy toward those non-Orthodox converts to Judaism, but these streams representing millions of Jews around the world. I do not accept the excuses of the Interior Ministry. The Ministry creates a Kafkaesque process which these Jews have no way out of! The decisions are made on a political basis just because these are non-Orthodox converts."

Leading Conservative Rabbi Andy Sacks, who has been fighting on behalf of the nine Venezuelans, said that the converts had not been part of a recognized community previously, because in Latin America converts are not accepted in such communities.

Sacks described the decision as "absurd," asking sarcastically if the converts must undergo a second brit mila (circumcision) too. But noting the dangerous situation the converts were living in, two of them having been robbed --at least one at gunpoint-- in recent days, he said there was no question that they would accept the solution offered to them. Venezuela has seen an escalation of crime, murder and poverty in recent years, since it plummeted into economic crisis.

"We have no choice," Executive Director and CEO of the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess said angrily, saying they would agree to the compromise because people's live were at stake. But he accused the government of "spitting in the face of millions," saying the Interior Ministry had thrown them under the bus.

“What we're being asked to do in order to bring people who everyone agrees are serious committed Jews now to Israel is ridiculous and insulting, but we'll do it because it's a matter of life and death," echoed Peretz Rodman, Av Beit Din of the Masorti Movement.

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