Ugandan Yosef Kibita denied right to aliyah again

Kibita converted to Judaism in 2008 in Uganda under the auspices of the US Conservative Movement.

YOSEF KIBITA reading from the Torah in the synagogue at Kibbutz Ketura, his adopted home for the last three years. (photo credit: Courtesy)
YOSEF KIBITA reading from the Torah in the synagogue at Kibbutz Ketura, his adopted home for the last three years.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

The Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry has once again rejected the aliyah (immigration) application of Yosef Kibita, a member of the Abayudaya community of Jewish converts from Uganda.

Kibita’s B1 work visa is set to expire on December 31, meaning he currently stands to be expelled from the country in two weeks’ time.

Kibita converted in 2008 in Uganda under the auspices of the US Conservative Movement and initially requested the right to make aliyah in 2018 under the Law of Return.

Since his Abayudaya community, a member of the Masorti Olami World Association of the Conservative movement, was only granted formal status as a recognized Jewish community by the Jewish Agency in 2009, the Population Authority rejected his aliyah request, saying his conversion was invalid for the purposes of citizenship since it was conducted before the Abayudaya were a recognized community.

The Masorti Movement filed a petition to the High Court of Justice against that decision, but withdrew it when told by the court in February of this year that Kibita’s case could be detrimental to the substantive issue of aliyah rights for the Abayudaya community.

Women and children carry Torah scrolls from an old synagogue building to a new building in Nabagoye, Ugandaz (credit: COURTESY BE’CHOL LASHON)Women and children carry Torah scrolls from an old synagogue building to a new building in Nabagoye, Ugandaz (credit: COURTESY BE’CHOL LASHON)

In the meantime, the court recommended Kibita convert again and then refile an application.

Kibita followed this recommendation, and did a pro forma conversion with the Masorti Rabbinical Court in Israel in March, and then filed a new aliyah application in June.

On Monday, the Population Authority rejected this application, with the head of the Foreign and Conversion Desk Tzipi Tzion writing that the Masorti Rabbinical Court had not required a new study course for Kibita and relied on the study course he completed for his first conversion in 2008 with the Abayudaya community.

Tzion said that since the conversion study course Kibita he underwent in Uganda in 2008 under the auspices of the US Conservative movement was not then recognized “since it was a conversion process conducted outside of the framework of a recognized Jewish community,” the Population Authority could not grant him citizenship on the basis of the new pro forma conversion.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, the director of the Masorti Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, denounced the decision, stating that Kibita has lived as a Jew since 2008, and studied in yeshiva and other Jewish frameworks.

Sacks noted in particular that Kibita had been accepted as a Jew by the rabbinical court of the Masorti Movement in Israel, an institution of a Jewish community recognized for the purposes of aliyah through conversion following a landmark High Court decision in March this year.

“He grew up attending a Jewish school, studied Judaism, spent time in studying in the Conservative Yeshiva, is active in religious life on Kibbutz Ketura where he lives, and reads from the Torah during prayer services, and he has come before a rabbinical court and proved himself as Jewish to them,” said Sacks.

“So what exactly do they want him to study?”

Sacks also pointed out that ministerial criteria require the Population Authority to hold an in-person hearing for an applicant who stands to be rejected, but that Kibita never received such a hearing.

The Abayudaya community in Uganda numbers approximately 2,000 people today according to the Masorti movement, after its leader, having been exposed to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament by Christian missionaries, chose to be Jewish.

Most members formally converted through the US Conservative movement between 2002 and 2010, and were recognized as a Jewish community by the Jewish Agency in 2009.

Sacks also noted that the Population Authority is apparently refusing to process aliyah requests from Abayudaya converts who converted after 2009 when the community was recognized by the Jewish Agency as a recognized Jewish community. 

Rivka [Violet] Nabulo, a member of the Abayudaya community who converted in 2010, recently applied for aliyah through the Jewish Agency. 

In a letter to Nabulo in response to her request, an official from the Jewish Agency’s Global Service Center said the Interior Ministry and its Population Authority “doesn't recognize the conversions performed in Uganda and therefore we're not able to start your Aliyah process.”