Man With 'Muslim Grandmother' Kept From Immigrating to Israel

Kosovar with letter from Serbian chief rabbi showing grandmother never converted petitions High Court to overturn ministry ruling.

A Kosovar living in Israel has petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Interior Ministry, following the ministry's refusal to recognize him as a Jew, despite the chief rabbi of Serbia's testimony that the man is Jewish and eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

The Interior Ministry claims the petitioner's grandmother had converted to Islam and is "even buried in a Muslim cemetery."

The Chief Rabbi of Serbia Isak Asiel, however, attests in an official letter attached to the Kosovar's request, that his grandmother had been "born a Jew and died a Jew." The rabbi states the grandmother had "never converted to Islam nor was married in a Muslim ceremony" and was buried in the only cemetery in town, where Jews and non-Jews alike were buried.

"During the Communist regime religion had no significance," writes Rabbi Asiel.

He also writes the Serbian Jewish community had always been a small one and he is familiar with the Jewish families' history.

The petitioner's mother immigrated with her husband to Israel at the end of 2008 and the Interior Ministry recognized them as new immigrants under the Law of Return. The ministry claims, however, that the mother was given immigrant status not because of her mother's Jewishness, but due to the previous generation's Jewishness.

The ministry says that since the petitioner's grandmother had converted to Islam, the man is neither the son of a Jewish woman nor the grandson of one, but only the great-grandson of a Jewish woman. Therefore he is not entitled to immigrant status under the Law of Return.

At the petitioner's request, the Rabbinical Court in Be'er Sheva ruled on the basis of the testimonies and documents provided that his mother and her two children are Jewish. The Chief Rabbinate in Ramle adopted the decision, ruling the petitioner is Jewish.

"The Interior Ministry's decision is erroneous and outrageous, especially because it is not based on concrete evidence. The ministry does not have even preliminary evidence proving the petitioner's grandmother had converted to Islam," says Attorney Dana Megadsi, of the Justice Ministry's Legal Aid department in Tel Aviv, which submitted the petition.

Eyal Globus, head of the National Legal Aid administration, said "the Immigration Registration refuses to recognize a man's Jewishness although a rabbinical court has established he is Jewish. This raises a need for a uniform definition of a person's Jewishness..."

Similar petitions have ended up in compromise, with the ministry recognizing the petitioners' Jewishness. But no precedent has yet been formed and in many cases people are forced to take legal measures when this could be avoided, he said.

The Immigration and Population Authority said the man's mother "immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, as the granddaughter of a Jew...The official documents show her mother had converted to Islam. Shortly after she came to Israel, her son arrived as a tourist. His requests to extend his visa were denied...Later he applied for legal status for humanitarian reasons. This was denied and he was asked to leave again. Recognition of official documents regarding Jewishness is determined only by the authorized officials - in this case the Liaison Bureau."