Israeli Parliament to Hold Special Hearing on Barred Venezuelan Jews

The decision, first reported in Haaretz, to bar a group of nine Venezuelan converts from immigrating to Israel sparked widespread outrage in the Jewish world.

A man wearing a Venezuelan flag protests anti-Semitism outside the UN’s local office in Caracas.
Ariana Cubillos, AP

Israel's parliamentary Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs will hold a special hearing on Tuesday on the government’s decision to bar a group of nine Venezuelan converts from immigrating to Israel.

The decision, first reported in Haaretz, has sparked widespread outrage in the Jewish world, with prominent rabbis, representing denominations across the spectrum, urging the government to reverse it.

The nine Venezuelans – five adults and four children – were converted by a Conservative rabbinical court in early 2014, before the economic crisis in Venezuela erupted. They are currently facing shortages in food and medicine.

The converts were notified that their visa applications had been rejected by the Ministry of Interior because they had not been actively engaged in Jewish communal life for a long enough period. 

Representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, the Jewish Agency, the Conservative and Reform movements, and various organizations engaged in immigration promotion and Jewish pluralism have been invited to attend the Knesset meeting.

In recent weeks, Israeli missions abroad have been inundated with protest letters and emails concerning the fate of the Venezuelan converts. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs drafted a statement, sent out to all the missions, siding with the government decision.

The statement, obtained by Haaretz, lists some of the criteria for conversions performed abroad to be recognized in Israel for the purpose of the Law of Return, which determines eligibility for immigration.  

“In the specific case under consideration, the criteria were not met, nor otherwise adequately addressed,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement says.

But documentation obtained by Haaretz proves otherwise. According to the Law of Return, which determines eligibility for immigration, Jewish converts who wish to move to Israel are required to have undergone conversion in a “recognized Jewish community” – one with a full-time rabbi and an active synagogue. They must then spend at least nine months actively engaged in Jewish communal life in a recognized Jewish community before they can move to Israel. Where no “recognized Jewish community” exists, as in this particular case, the Ministry of Interior requires a longer period of engagement in Jewish communal life – 18 months – following the conversion. The Venezuelan converts, according to written testimony provided by their converting rabbi, were active members of the recognized Jewish community of Valencia (about an hour’s drive away from their homes in Maracay) for longer than 18 months.