Not only has Israel built a fence to keep out African asylum seekers fleeing extreme violence, slavery and persecution in their home countries, it has now built a virtual “fence” around Judaism itself to prevent all African asylum seekers from converting to Judaism an Israeli government official announced this week – not with shame, but with pride.
Dozens of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers – deemed refugees by international law, including in treaties signed by Israel, but whom Israel refuses to classify as refugees anyway – have asked to convert to Judaism in the past year.
Those requests to convert to Judaism were denied by the Israeli government’s Conversion Authority out of hand because the African asylum seekers are in Israel illegally – a status most have only because Israel refuses to uphold international law and the treaties it signed.
The Ministry of Religious of Services claims that those African asylum seekers tried to convert at a time when a wave of anti-African-asylum-seeker sentiment was sweeping the country, and the government had stepped up efforts to deport or imprison them.
A ministry official told reporters that the blanket refusal to allow any of the African asylum seekers to begin the conversion process made the entire community of African asylum seekers in Israel give up on the idea of converting to Judaism in order to be allowed to remain in Israel, and the number of requests to convert made by African asylum seekers dropped.
The head of the government’s Conversion Authority, Shmuel Jeselsohn, was even more blunt.
“The government built a fence in the south, on the state’s border, and we built one here, at the entrance gate to the Jewish people. That’s why even when there are infiltrators seeking to convert – it’s not a phenomenon,” Jeselsohn told reporters.
Until a few years ago, there was no ban on African asylum seekers converting, Jeselsohn said.
“Everyone who was deported or banned entry to Israel would immediately knock on the door, and we had to summon them for an interview and start a [conversion] process. This has been stopped,” Jeselsohn said, adding that now foreign nationals who want to convert are required to fill out a form. That form is then discussed by Conversion Authority officials and representatives of the Justice Ministry. If that request to convert has been made by an illegal resident of Israel – which by definition all African asylum seekers are because Israel refuses to classify them as refugees, even though the vast majority are refugees under international law – the application to begin the conversion process will be immediately denied.
A Conversion Authority source said that things would only get worse for African asylum seekers if the government finally classifies them as refugees and and allows those who truly want to convert to begin the conversion process.
“The stories we hear from the religious courts, that they allegedly abuse [potential] converts, will pale in comparison to what we are expected to see with the Africans,” a Conversion Authority source reportedly said. “Today we are still talking about immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who in the worst case are assimilators of Jewish descent, and so we are still lenient with them. But here we are talking about tens of thousands who want to assimilate into us and have no connection to Judaism.”
The blanket ban on conversions of foreign nationals who illegally reside in Israel also applies to any Palestinian who has even been caught trying to enter Israel illegally to work or to visit family on the Israel side of the Green Line.
“A while ago I met a woman with a head cover, who obviously maintains a very religious lifestyle and really wants to be part of the Jewish people. But then it turned out that several years ago she tried to enter Israel without a permit, and so legally she must not be converted,” Jeselsohn, the Conversion Authority’s head, said, noting that the authority’s Exceptions Committee now only grants exceptions in very rare cases.
Jeselsohn also found it amusing that a Bedouin man who had started the conversion process (and was apparently studying in a haredi yeshiva) called the authority to find out why he wasn’t given a government stipend like any other yeshiva student.
By: Shmarya Rosenberg
Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution Of Blacks In The Unholy Land