sraeli lawmakers attend a vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 6, 2017.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Tempers flared on Wednesday during an acrimonious hearing in the Knesset Aliya Committee regarding the deportation from Ben-Gurion Airport of a Jewish man from Kenya by Interior Ministry officials, despite him having a valid visa.
The incident occurred last month and led to accusations that the individual, Yehuda Kimani, was discriminated against by the ministry because he had converted through the Conservative movement and because he is black.
Kimani belongs to the Abayudaya. He converted to Judaism in 2010 through the Conservative movement and became active in the rural mountain community where he lives. The community is recognized as Jewish by the Jewish Agency.
During the Knesset hearing, ministry official Amos Arbel explained that Kimani was expelled because he stated in his visa application that besides touring the country, he would also be studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Despite this, Kimani was issued with a visa that stated specifically on it that he would be visiting the Conservative Yeshiva. But Arbel said that Kimani nevertheless needed a student visa, not a tourist visa, which was why he was expelled.
And when questioned by committee chairman MK Avraham Neguise about the vagaries of the ministry bureaucracy, Arbel responded: “What do you mean that it was written on his visa that he was coming to study in yeshiva? Is he Jewish?” asked Arbel rhetorically. “Do you want half of Africa here?” Despite Arbel’s explanation, the ministry previously gave a different reason for expelling Kimani, stating to the press that the ministry was concerned that he would seek to illegally remain in the country beyond the time period allowed on his visa.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Masorti Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, rejected Arbel’s explanation, pointing out that many foreign visitors who participate in the Masorti Movement’s short-term study programs in Israel enter the country on tourist visas, not student visas.
Sacks also noted that Kimani stated several times on his visa application form that he would be in Israel for just three weeks and that a prominent member of a Masorti synagogue in Jerusalem and a former judge in the UK had agreed to be his sponsor in Israel and had signed a bank guarantee for his presence in the country, and had agreed to cover all of Kimani’s costs, including his flight, accommodation and tuition.
This being the case, Sacks said, there was no reason to suspect Kimani would stay beyond the limits of his visa, other than suspicions based on his country of origin.
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen Paran, who called for the hearing, described Kimani’s expulsion as “absurd” and based on “racism and discrimination.”
“No one deserves this kind of humiliating expulsion, especially not when they have a valid visa. There is twofold discrimination here, which gives off the smell of racism toward someone from Africa, and on the other hand against the Masorti community."
Josh Schwartz, the secretary-general of the Jewish Agency, said, however, that he does not believe Kimani’s expulsion was due to racism.
“We need to be very wary of these kinds of statements about the government. Yes, in this case the Jewish Agency recognizes this [Kimani’s] community, but he arrived as a tourist and not under the Law of Return, and therefore it is preferable to listen to the position of the Interior Ministry,” said Schwartz.
Neguise said that the committee would be following up on the issue.