Jewish-American basketball player: Shaked prefers giving citizenship to oligarchs than to me

Jared Armstrong, 24, cannot play his sport in Israel because his visa has expired and he hasn’t been granted Israeli citizenship - his conversion has come under question.

Jewish-American basketball player Jared Armstrong (photo credit: JARED ARMSTRONG)
Jewish-American basketball player Jared Armstrong
(photo credit: JARED ARMSTRONG)

A Jewish-American basketball player who is trying to become an Israeli citizen blames Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked for delaying his citizenship, even though an adviser to the minister “promised” otherwise.

Jared Armstrong, 24, cannot play his sport in Israel because his visa has expired, and he has not been granted Israeli citizenship. Even though he was raised as a Jew in a Jewish community in the US, his conversion has come under question.

He grew up as a Jewish African-American in Philadelphia, played basketball professionally, and after visiting Israel on a Birthright trip, decided to immigrate to Israel. The Interior Ministry, however, decided that even though he went through a Conservative conversion, he was not eligible to make aliyah.

Armstrong said that he had a meeting on February 28 with an adviser to Shaked about his case.

“A few days after the meeting, the minister’s adviser said she will grant me an approval for aliyah,” Armstrong said. “It’s been over two months since this happened. During this time, a friend of mine was in touch with the adviser who said the procedure takes some time. Yet he also said that the minister has approved my request and that it will take between a week to a month for the process to be finalized. It’s been two months and we have not been able to receive any answers.”

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata welcomes new immigrants into Israel (credit: Noga Malaka/Aliyah and Integration Ministry) Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata welcomes new immigrants into Israel (credit: Noga Malaka/Aliyah and Integration Ministry)

He said the Israeli government “cannot turn me away if they can give a Russian oligarch citizenship in four days. Unfortunately, going to the media is the only option we have left.”

Armstrong shared the voice message that Shaked’s adviser sent to Armstrong’s friend in which the adviser said: “The minister will approve your request, yet I don’t know if it will be within a week or a month.”

“I was born a Jew” Armstrong said previously. “I grew up an observant Jew. We kept Shabbat and the High Holy Days. I was not allowed to play sports on Saturday; instead you would find me in shul.”

Armstrong’s father is not Jewish, yet his mother went through conversion by Congregation Temple Beth El, which is not acknowledged by any of the halachic Jewish streams in the US. The conversion, therefore, was not acknowledged by the Jewish Agency.

In June 2020, Armstrong started his aliyah process while living in Philadelphia. He now resides in Tel Aviv, although only as a tourist.

“I applied for aliyah abroad through the Jewish Agency, and learned that my family was not considered Jewish in their eyes. So I did a full conservative conversion that met the criteria on the Jewish Agency website. I was accused of only wanting to move to Israel for the job opportunity, to play basketball for Hapoel Haifa. Also, [I was] accused of being a black Hebrew Israelite.”

His conversion process was handled by Rabbi Michael Beals of Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Delaware, a synagogue affiliated with the Conservative movement. Beals is often referred to as “Joe Biden’s rabbi,” and has been interviewed many times in the American media.