Israel Deports African Jew With Valid Visa Hours After Landing at Ben-Gurion Airport

The Ministry of Interior cites concerns that 31-year-old convert 'would stay here.' Conservative movement leader: Deportation 'is act of racism'

Yehuda Kimani reads from the Torah at Ner Tamid synagogue in Boston.
Alan Pransky

An African convert to Judaism, who had obtained permission to study at a yeshiva run by the Conservative movement in Jerusalem, was deported on Monday morning after being detained at Ben-Gurion International Airport overnight.

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Francis Kimani (“Yehuda”) Njogu, a 31-year-old citizen of Kenya, was turned away even though he had a valid three-month tourist visa to Israel, signed by Israel’s ambassador in Nairobi Noah Gal Gendler.

The three-month visa issued to Yehuda Kimani, signed by Israel’s ambassador in Nairobi Noah Gal Gendler.
Rabbi Andy Sacks

Njogu's conversion to Judaism, about 10 years ago, was overseen by the rabbi of the Abayudaya community in Uganda. The Abayudaya community split from Christianity in the early 20th century when its members began identifying as Jews and observing Jewish laws and customs. Last year, the Jewish Agency ruled that the Abayudaya are a recognized Jewish community.

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After he converted, Njogu spent a year living among the Abayudaya. Currently a student in Nairobi, he spent a semester several years ago at the Brandeis Summer Institute in Los Angeles studying Judaism.

Yehudah Kimani blows the shofar with his son.
Courtesy of Francis Kimani

Earlier this year, Njogo put in a request for a three-month tourist visa to Israel, indicating in his application that he intended to study and travel in the country. His application was denied by the Ministry of Interior.

Last month, he reapplied, this time directly through the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi, where he explained that he had been accepted to a study program at the Conservative yeshiva. An embassy official contacted the yeshiva to confirm that he had, indeed, been accepted. About 10 days ago, Njogo was informed that his visa had been approved and that he should come to the embassy to pick up his passport. The visa, which contains the stamp of the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, states that the purpose of his visit is to study at the Conservative yeshiva.

A prominent member of the Conservative movement in Israel had agreed to pay for this flight, accommodations and tuition, and put up bond money guaranteeing that Njogu would return when his visa expired.

After he was detained late Sunday night, Njogo was denied contact with his sponsors in Israel.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, described the deportation as “an act of outright racism.”

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “He was not let into the country because he was black, and this is not the first time our converts from Africa have been given the run-around.”

Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior said that Njogo didn’t bother informing the Israeli embassy, when he requested the visa a second time, that he had already been denied a visa. She said he was not allowed into Israel “both because of that initial refusal and because of concerns that he would stay here.”

Sacks responded that the embassy had to have known about the initial refusal because he himself had called to complain about it.

“What the Ministry of Interior says is completely and totally false," said Sacks, "and even if it were true, it’s no reason to keep him out of the country.”