Following Haaretz Report, Knesset to Discuss Accusations of Discrimination Against non-Orthodox Converts of Color

Emergency panel hearing prompted by case of Kenyan convert who was deported after landing in Israel to study at yeshiva affiliated with Conservative movement

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

A Knesset panel will devote an emergency hearing next Wednesday to allegations that the Interior Ministry systematically discriminates against converts of color affiliated with the Conservative movement.

The session was called following the deportation last week of an African convert to Judaism who had a valid visa to enter Israel.

As first reported in Haaretz, Francis Kimani (“Yehuda”) Njogu, a 31-year-old citizen of Kenya, had obtained permission to study at the yeshiva run by the Conservative movement in Jerusalem. He was detained as soon as he landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport and was held overnight before being sent back on a flight to Kenya the next morning.

His three-month tourist visa to Israel had been signed by Israel’s ambassador in Nairobi, Noah Gal Gendler.

The Ministry of Interior said that he was deported because he hadn’t notified the ambassador about a previous request for a visa that had been denied and “because of concerns that he would stay here.”

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, described the deportation as “an act of outright racism” and noted that it was not the first time converts of color had confronted challenges entering Israel.

The Knesset hearing will be held in the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. The request to hold the hearing was submitted by Yael Cohen Paran, a Knesset member from the Zionist Union who has emerged over the past year as a leading advocate for converts of color.

Representatives of the Ministry of Interior as well as of the Conservative movement in Israel have been invited to the hearing.

Njogu’s conversion to Judaism, about ten 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. Most members of the community were converted by Conservative rabbis.

Last year, the Jewish Agency ruled that the Abayudaya are a recognized Jewish community.

After he converted, Njogu spent a year living among the Abayudaya.