Israel's decision to not recognise Ugandan Jews sparks anger

Israel's decision to not recognise Ugandan Jews sparks anger
A decision by Israel's Interior Ministry to not recognise Uganda's Abayudaya community as Jewish caused an uproar in the Knesset on Monday.
2 min read
26 June, 2018
A migrants rights demonstration in Israel [Getty]

Israeli lawmakers have condemned immigration officials as racist for not recognising the Jewish community of Uganda.

The accusations were made at a special session of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Monday, held to discuss complications faced by Jewish converts who want to move to Israel.

Israeli MKs called the session after a recent decision by the Interior Ministry to reject an application by a member of the Ugandan Abayudaya community to immigrate to Israel, saying the ministry does not recognise the conversion of the community.

A Ugandan Jew, who is potentially facing deportation, said he was left "heartbroken" by the decision and that his only wish was "to be with my people". Kibita Yosef said he had been a practicing Jew since birth, attending a Jewish school as a child, had a Bar Mitzvah and observes Shabbat, according to Haaretz.

Yosef had been warned by the Interior Ministry that he had to leave Israel by mid-June, when his tourist visa expired, but he was granted a last minute reprieve after the High Court issued an injunction blocking his deportation.

"How does the Interior Ministry dare to deport someone who was born a Jew?" the chairman of the committee, Avraham Nagosa, who was born in Ethiopia asked its representatives attending the session. "Do you have special criteria for black converts?"

According to the Law of Return, any individual converted in a "recognized Jewish community" is eligible to immigrate to Israel. Several years ago, the Jewish Agency granted recognition to the Abayudaya, however the Interior Ministry argued it was an "emerging" community and not recognised, therefore not fitting the criteria.

Anti-blackness among Israel's extreme right is rampant, with religious figures sometimes perpetuating such rhetoric.

In March, one of Israel's chief rabbis came under fire for likening African-Americans to monkeys during a recent sermon explaining Jewish law.

"You can't make the blessing on every 'kushi' you see - in America you see one every five minutes, so you make it only on a person with a white father and mother," said Yitzhak Yosef, using an offensive term in modern Hebrew for Africans.

"So you make it only on a person with a white father and mother. How do would you know? You know if they had a monkey for a son," the rabbi added.

The Talmud dictates that Jews must make blessings when seeing fruit trees blossoming and "unusual creatures" such as "black people, or very red or very white people" during the month of Nissan (April).