Interior Ministry Forced to Ban Discrimination Against Converts Moving to Israel

Immigration officials at Ben-Gurion Airport told to treat converts like Jews-by-birth when issuing identity cards.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Facing mounting complaints, the government has initiated new procedures to prevent further discrimination against converts to Judaism entering Israel as new immigrants.

By Iaw, Jews arriving in Israel with new immigrant status, including converts, are eligible to receive their Israeli identity cards as soon as they land at Ben-Gurion International Airport. However, a slew of recent complaints indicated that the airport authorities have been treating converts differently from Jews from birth in this regard: While Jews from birth have been able to receive their identity cards easily once they land, converts were sent to another line and told that they needed to pay a visit to the Ministry of Interior before they could receive their identity cards.

ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center, an organization that helps individuals navigate Israel’s religious bureaucracy, became aware of many such cases and decided to take action. “This is something that has been going on for years apparently, but it’s only reached our ears in recent months,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder and director of ITIM.

Prompted by ITIM, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) submitted a query on the matter to Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. Landver notified Stern in a written statement last week that after investigating the matter, the head of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority at the Interior Ministry had published a new directive that requires issuing Israeli identity cards to converts who have been approved for immigration as soon as they arrive at the airport. “Staff at Ben-Gurion Airport now operate according to this directive,” she wrote.

“This was a classic example of xenophobia and the mistreatment of converts, something that is anathema to our tradition and the Jewish values of the State of Israel,” said Farber. “We are gratified that the Ministry of Interior has recognized the problematic policy and hope that they will continue to rectify the mistreatment suffered by this vulnerable segment of the Jewish community.“

According to the Law of Return, Jews who have undergone conversion abroad − Orthodox or not − are eligible to immigrate to Israel. If they have not undergone an Orthodox conversion (and sometimes, even if they have), they cannot get married in Israel under the Rabbinate.

The organization responsible for bestowing “new immigrant” status on those seeking to immigrate to Israel is the Jewish Agency.

The Ministry of Interior did not respond to a request to clarify its previous position that discriminated against converts.

New immigrants arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Officials realized that they could encourage more immigration by easing concerns about employment.Credit: Moti Kimche

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