Another lot of the wrong kind of Jews…

The Abayudaya community was formed 100 years ago and, today, there are thousands of Jewish Ugandans living in nine rural villages in the eastern part of the country. Like any other Jewish community, there are houses of worship, schools and even a medical clinic.

JVL Introduction

Policing borders is never easy for the “Jewish state”.

Israel’s right of return essentially defined Jews as Hitler had done, for good reasons. If you would have been persecuted as a Jew by Hitler, the law gave you a right of refuge in Israel (bizarrely termed a right of “return”).

That right was also extended to those who convert to Judaism though “the right kind” of process.

While having the advantage of making Palestinians generally ineligible to “return” (actually return), it has allowed an awful number of non-Jews (particularly Russians with a Jewish member in their family) to immigrate.

The Orthodox rabbinate who control issues of civil status in Israel can’t really bear it. Their obsession with racial purity continues to be felt in Israel’s immigration policies.

For them, any exception from the strict halachic definition of a Jew (viz having a Jewish mother) has to be resisted.

So, while living as Jews, as do the Abayudaya community in Uganda, is good enough for the Jewish Agency who regard them as a “recognized Jewish community”, Israel’s Interior Ministry does not.

Read on…


This article was originally published by Haaretz on Mon 25 Jan 2021. Read the original here.

Ugandan Jews Not Eligible to Immigrate to Israel, State Informs High Court

Decision overrules Jewish Agency, which had formally recognized the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community several years ago. A ruling in favor of the state could have serious repercussions for ’emerging Jewish communities’ around the world

After years of deliberation, the Interior Ministry has determined that members of the Jewish community of Uganda are not eligible to immigrate to Israel. The Jewish Agency had ruled several years ago that they are, but the Interior Ministry has the upper hand in such matters.

The decision was revealed in the state’s response on Tuesday to a petition filed in the High Court of Justice by a member of the community whose request to immigrate had been rejected. Minister of Interior Arye Dery and the Population and Immigration Authority are listed as respondents in the case.

A ruling in favor of the state could have serious repercussions for “emerging Jewish communities” around the world interested in connecting to Israel. This would include “Bnei Anusim” – descendants of Jews forced to convert during the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions – as well as communities that claim descent from the “Lost Israelite tribes” and entire communities of converts in South America. The High Court is scheduled to hold a hearing in the case on February 3.

The Abayudaya, who do not have Jewish roots, embraced Judaism about 100 years ago. Only about 20 years ago, however, did members of this community begin undergoing formal conversions. Most of these conversions were overseen by rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement. Most of the 2,000-strong community reside today in several villages in eastern Uganda, with a tiny number in Kenya.

Two and a half years ago, the Interior Ministry rejected a request from Kibita Yosef – who was then participating in a study program in Israel run by the Conservative movement – to obtain immigrant status under the Law of Return. According to the Law of Return, any person who converts to Judaism is eligible to immigrate to Israel on condition that the conversion was conducted in a “recognized Jewish community” – regardless of denominational affiliation.

Kibita was the first member of the Ugandan community to apply to immigrate.

He was informed by the Interior Ministry that his request had been rejected because his conversion did not meet the required criteria. In response, Kibita, together with the Conservative movement in Israel, petitioned the High Court. They are being represented by the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in the country.

In its response to the petition, the state said explicitly for the first time that it does not regard the Abayudaya as a “recognized Jewish community,” and therefore, members are not eligible for immigration under the Law of Return.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement in Israel, termed the decision “outrageous.”

“Yosef has been a member of the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda for many years,” he said. “This community is affiliated with our movement, it has a well-developed community infrastructure and is served by a recognized rabbi. The notion that Israel’s Interior Minister should have the power to dismiss the legitimacy of Diaspora Jewish communities supported by the major denominations is both insulting and counter to the written criteria of his own ministry. This is a time for us to bring the Jewish communities in Israel and in the Diaspora together. The disrespect shown by the government toward this community of Jews, sadly, does just the opposite.”

The Jewish Agency ruled several years ago that the Abayudaya are a “recognized Jewish community. Since then, it has been trying to convince the Interior Ministry to accept this position. Until this week, the ministry had never stated categorically what its position was on the Abayudaya. At times, it did approve visa requests from community members allowing them to participate in programs run by the Conservative movement in Israel. At other times, such applications were rejected. Two years ago, the first – and so far only – group of Ugandan Jews visited Israel on Birthright, the organization that provides free, 10-day trips to Israel for young Jewish adults from countries around the world.

Three years ago, Francis Kimani Njogu, a member of the Abayudaya , was arrested when he landed in Israel on a flight from Nairobi – even though he was in possession of a valid student visa allowing him to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. After being detained overnight at Ben-Gurion International Airport, he was deported back to his home country.

A committee appointed by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry published a report several years ago recommending that Israel reach out to “emerging Jewish communities,” and in some cases, even assist them in converting and immigrating. The report found that more than 60 million people around the world have some ties to Judaism or Israel. The cabinet has never discussed the report.

You might also like to read Simon J. Rabinovitch in Ha’aretz on 31 December 2020

Is ‘Jewish’ a Nationality or Religion? Inside Israel’s Fierce, Bitter Debate About Identity

How one man’s quest, half a century ago, for the right to define his own family’s identity unwittingly set up a momentous clash between Israel’s secular and religious power centers, changed the Law of Return and still fuels conflict over who is a Jew


Comments (4)

  • rc says:

    Is it not ironical that one of Herzl’s initial choices for his proposed Jewish homeland is usually referred to as the Uganda project? (actually it was mainly in what is now Kenya, where the ‘white Highlanders’ were establishing a racially pure aristocratic enclave by driving out the local peasantry…
    Sounds reminiscent? Of course, when the Kikuyu and their descendants sought to reclaim their ancestral lands and rights, they were denounced as savage murders, who even took oaths of loyalty to their cause… not very civilised, or even British, what? And ten tons of incriminating documents were dumped in the Indian Ocean… sounds reminiscent, eh?

  • bob cannell says:

    The fact they are poor black Africans is of course a complete coincidence. Obviously had nothing to do with the decision. Is there a comparotor with a white Jewish community?

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I am pretty sure that the Ugandan Jews who are not being allowed to immigrate to Israel are not unhalachic (is there such a word?!) for lack of a Jewish mother as you have said. Their rejected status derives from their having being converted to Judaism by Conservative Jews i.e. their converters were non-Orthodox and hence ‘the wrong kind of Jews’!! I don’t think their blackness is the issue either – they are not the only community of ’emerging Jews’ and some of these communities are not black either. Read the article again slowly!

  • Mark Francis says:

    Why should anyone of whatever description be allowed to immigrate at the expense of the Palestinians – particularly as they may end up in an illegal settlement, mostly with Americans who like playing with Uzis ?

Comments are now closed.