Top Court Blocks Israel’s Move to Deport Ugandan Convert to Judaism

Interior Ministry given until end of July to explain why it won’t recognize the Abayudaya community from Uganda, even though the Jewish Agency has

Kibita Yosef, a member of the Ugandan Abayudaya community, whose request to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return was denied at the end of May.
Sarah Nabaggala

The High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction Thursday against the deportation of a Jewish convert from Uganda whose request to immigrate to Israel had been denied.

The injunction was issued by Justice Isaac Amit, in response to a petition submitted by the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel on behalf of Kibita Yosef. He is a member of the Abayudaya community whose visa expired on Thursday.

The Interior Ministry notified Yosef two weeks ago that his request to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return had been denied, as his conversion to Judaism was not recognized. It later clarified that its decision was “a matter of principle regarding conversions in this community.” It was the first time the ministry had stated outright it does not recognize the 2,000-strong Abayudaya community, most of whose members were converted by the Conservative-Masorti movement.

In its petition, the Conservative-Reform movement demanded that the decision be overturned, arguing that it contradicted a previous High Court ruling, which required the state to recognize all conversions performed in “recognized Jewish communities” for the purpose of the Law of Return.

The Jewish Agency considers the Abayudaya a recognized Jewish community, but the ministry does not. The Conservative-Masorti movement and Yosef are receiving legal representation from the Israel Religious Action Center – the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in the country. The petition was filed against Interior Minister Arye Dery and Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The High Court gave the respondents until July 29 to respond to the petition.

The ministry had informed Yosef that if he does not leave the country by Thursday, he risks deportation. He has been living on Ketura – a kibbutz affiliated with the Conservative movement – over the past year.

Leaders of the world Conservative-Masorti movement were shocked and outraged by the ministry ruling against the Abayudaya – a community the movement has taken under its wing. In a statement issued last week, the leaders termed the move “a blow to Jewish unity,” adding that it was “not only an affront to the Abayudaya, but also to the entire worldwide Conservative-Masorti movement.”

The Abayudaya began practicing Judaism some 100 years ago, but were only officially converted in recent years.