Israel Withdraws Opposition to Allowing 'Jews of the Amazon' to Make Aliyah

Mixed-race Peruvian converts to begin arriving in Israel early this summer, after being allowed to do so by Interior Ministry.

The Interior Ministry has withdrawn its opposition to allowing several hundred mixed-race Peruvian converts, also known as the “Jews of the Amazon,” to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, Jewish Agency officials have confirmed.

Members of the community will begin arriving in Israel early this summer in relatively small groups in order to facilitate their absorption. The Jewish Agency has arranged for housing for them in Ramle, where many of their relatives already reside.

The group of 284 Peruvians, who come from Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, were converted to Judaism by a Conservative rabbinical court in August 2011, after they engaged in Jewish studies for five years. They are the descendants of Moroccan Jews who arrived in the Amazon in the 19th century seeking employment in the rubber industry, and who married and had children with local women.

Under current immigration procedures, individuals who are not born Jewish are expected to spend nine months as active members of their local Jewish communities after they have completed the conversion process – regardless of what type of conversion they have undergone – before they move to Israel. During this time, their applications are reviewed by the Interior Ministry. The ministry, which does not have its own emissaries abroad, typically relies on recommendations from the Jewish Agency about the validity of conversions performed abroad.

The Jewish Agency last year notified the Interior Ministry that it had determined the conversions performed for the group of 284 Peruvians fulfilled all the necessary criteria to make them eligible for immigrating to Israel under the Law of Return. Based on this recommendation, they should have been able to immigrate to Israel in May 2012.

But ministry officials initially insisted, despite a Jewish Agency legal ruling to the contrary, that bringing this large a group of converts to Israel required a special cabinet. Both Jewish Agency officials and Conservative movement leaders in Israel were incensed by the Interior Ministry’s refusal to grant the Peruvians permission to immigrate.

After withholding approval for months, the Interior Ministry eventually accepted the legal ruling that no cabinet decision was required in order to bring the group over.

Hundreds of members of the Iquitos community have already immigrated to Israel in two separate waves – one in 2001 and the other in 2005. 

Courtesy of Noam Demsky