Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Peruvian Converts Accuse Israel Of Racism

Hundreds of mixed-race converts to Judaism from the Peruvian rainforest have been denied permission to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) under the Law of Return even though they reportedly meet all legal requirements to do so, Ha'aretz reported.

These “Jews of the Amazon” are descendants of Moroccan Jews who arrived in the Amazon in the 1800s to work in the rubber industry. They married local women and had children with them.

The group of 284 come from Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest. They spent five years studying for conversion with rabbis from the Conservative Movement and converted to Judaism in 2011.

Jack Corcos, head of the of the Jewish Agency section that approves eligibility for immigration, reportedly told a gathering in Jerusalem that he did not understand the Ministry of Interior’s ongoing refusal to approve the requests of the “Jews of the Amazon” to make aliyah.

“There is no reason they should be waiting any longer. The whole story is very odd,” he reportedly said during a meeting of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.

Corcos also reportedly said that Interior Ministry officials told him that bringing a group this large to Israel mandated that Israel’s Cabinet approve it. Jewish Agency legal advisers claim that a cabinet decision is only required when a group’s members have not yet been converted to Judaism, but will do so in Israel. An example of this latter situation is the aliyah of the Falash Mura from Ethiopia.

Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad did not respond to a question from Ha’aretz about the Agency’s legal advisors’ claims.

The haredi-controled Ministry of Interior said the fate of the “Jews of the Amazon” was being discussed.

“A discussion on the issue was held last week with the Jewish Agency and relevant parties from the Population and Immigration Authority. The issue awaits a decision of the senior echelon [of the Interior Ministry – i.e., haredi Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is a co-head of the Sefardi haredi Shas Party],” ministry spokeswoman Haddad told Ha’aretz.

If the ministry rejects their citizenship applications, senior member of the the Jewish organizational world say that it could easily seriously undermine relations between the Government of Israel and the Conservative Movement.

“I can tell you that the Conservative movement leadership will not take this in stride. As far as they see it, it’s an act of contempt – a total disregard for the validity of their conversions,” one such Jewish leader told the paper.

Most of the Peruvian converts want to move to Israel. The plan was for them to do so gradually, arriving in several separate groups.

Hundreds of other “Jews of the Amazon” already immigrated to Israel. They came in two separate waves, one in 2001 and the other in 2005, and had no trouble doing so. Many of today’s “Jews of the Amazon” trying to immigrate to Israel are their relatives.

When asked by Ha’aretz why the applications of the current group were being held up, while those of the previous groups were approved without any problem, the ministry’s spokesperson did not reply.

In 2005 the Interior Ministers – there were three who served during parts of that year – were not haredi.

In 2001, two Interior Ministers served, Haim Ramon from January 1 to March 7, and Eli Yishai of the Sefardi haredi Shas Party the rest of the year.

Most Israeli “Jews of the Amazon” live in the city of Ramle, which is prepared to absorb the remaining members of the community.

Under current immigration law, people who are not born Jewish must spend nine months as active members of their local Jewish communities after they convert before qualifying to move to Israel as a Jew under israel’s Law of Return. During that nine-month period their applications are reviewed by the Ministry of Interior. Because the ministry does not have its own emissaries overseas, it usually relies on recommendations from the Jewish Agency, which does.

Last year the Agency told the Ministry of Interior that the conversions of the 284 “Jews of the Amazon” met all the necessary criteria to allow them to be eligible for immigrating to Israel under the Law of Return – therefore they should have been able to immigrate to Israel beginning in May 2012.

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, who is the head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, was reportedly invited by Jewish Agency officials to participate in last week’s meeting with the Ministry of Interior because he has connections with the rabbis who performed the Peruvian conversions. As Sacks entered and sat down, Interior Ministry officials asked him to leave, prompting what Ha’aretz calls “an angry response” from the Jewish Agency officials in the meeting.

Sacks reportedly stormed out of the room while accusing the Ministry of Interior of racism.

He told Haaretz that based on his experience with converts, “when they are people of color, they are guaranteed to run into a roadblock and obfuscation in their attempts to make aliyah.”

The ministry’s spokeswoman Haddad also declined to respond to this accusation. 


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