Deri keeps Sharansky waiting on Ugandan community meeting

The Abayudaya community in Uganda currently comprises of some 2,000 people, which began adopting Jewish religious practices at the beginning of the 20th century.

June 10, 2018 19:26
2 minute read.
Deri keeps Sharansky waiting on Ugandan community meeting

Ugandan Rabbi Harun Kintu Moses conducts a Hebrew language lesson at Hadassah School, a jewish community institute in Mbale some 224km east of Uganda's capital Kampala. Ugandan Rabbi Harun Kintu Moses conducts a Hebrew language lesson at Hadassah School, a Jewish community institute in Mbale along t. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Interior Minister Arye Deri has yet to respond to a request by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to meet over the issue of “emerging communities,” and the Ugandan Abayudaya community in particular, which was recently denied recognition as being Jewish by the Interior Ministry.

Sharansky made his request on Wednesday following several requests by Jewish Agency officials to meet with their counterparts in the Interior Ministry to discuss the issue, all of which were unanswered, the Jewish Agency said.

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The issue of so-called “emerging communities” has been gathering importance as several groups in Africa and Latin America claiming affinity to, or to be descendants from, the Jewish people, as well as large groups of converts, have become more prominent in recent years.

“Some of these communities do conversion, some adopt Jewish customs, and some proclaim their Jewish roots, real or imaginary, and demonstrate support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” wrote Sharansky to Deri.

“The proliferation of these kind of communities presents the State of Israel with new challenges, in the field of immigration and in the field of education and advocacy.”

Sharansky said that “to the surprise” of the Jewish Agency, the requests to meet with Interior Ministry officials had all been rejected since Deri is currently dealing with the issue, and that Sharansky was therefore seeking a meeting with Deri himself.

A spokesman for Deri did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The Abayudaya community in Uganda is one such emerging community, which currently comprises some 2,000 people, and which began adopting Jewish religious practices at the beginning of the 20th century.

Most members formally converted through the US Conservative movement between 2002 and 2010, are a formal part of the movement, and are recognized as a Jewish community by the Jewish Agency.

One member of the community, Yosef Kibita, recently applied to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, but his application was rejected by the Interior Ministry in May, which said that his conversion was not recognized in Israel.

A High Court ruling in 2002, and criteria subsequently published up by the Interior Ministry, determined that a community with infrastructure and recognized by one of the major Jewish denominations, or by the Jewish Agency, should be eligible for recognition under the Law of Return.

Since the High Court ruling, converts through the Conservative and Reform movements whose conversions were performed outside of Israel have been routinely accepted for citizenship under the Law of Return.

The rejection by the Interior Ministry of Kibita’s application for citizenship was therefore strongly denounced by the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, which described it as “unlawful.”

In a separate case, Yehuda Kimani, another member of the Abayudaya community, has sought to obtain a student visa to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel and to tour the country, but his application was recently rejected.

Kimani was deported from Ben-Gurion Airport in December, despite having a valid tourist visa, with Interior Ministry officials saying there was a concern he would illegally stay in the country beyond the period of his visa.

The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee said in January that the Conservative movement should have him reapply for a student visa, but this too was recently rejected.

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