The treatment that I have received since applying for citizenship, my automatic right as a Jew, is an embarrassment to any country that claims to have a written law to protect the people from the arbitrary abuse of governmental power.
Since submitting my application in May of 2018, I have been detained, interrogated, threatened with deportation, and repeatedly misled by government officials. The abuse did not stop at me but has extended to my wife and children.
The Law Of Return does state that a Jew can be denied citizenship if they are "a person with a criminal past, likely to endanger public welfare" but I have proven that I am not likely to endanger public welfare. However according to the Jewish Community Watch, this statute has not stopped dozens of Jewish pedophiles who are United States ctizens from finding a haven in the borders of Israel to avoid punishment for their crimes.
This well-known problem is also taken advantage of by fugitives from other countries. For example, Malka Leifer fled Australia when facing 74 child sex offenses directly to Israel. Once caught by Israeli authorities, she was not extradited but instead allowed to continue living a normal life with periodic psychiatric reviews in Israel. Only after private investigators filmed hundreds of hours of footage of her living a normal life in Israel did the Israeli justice system reopen the case and find her fit to stand trial and return her to Australia. Six years after her arrest.
The Deputy Minister of Health allegedly pressured doctors to falsify psychiatric evaluations that deemed Leifer unfit to stand trial, preventing her extradition. He has claimed that everything he did was legal, and he was acting "for the good of the public."
However, as a Black convert to Judaism with a criminal record, the government found it harder to allow me to continuie my law abiding Jewish life in Israel than to assist Malka Leifer in her evasion of justice. I am not on the run from the law, I fully paid my debt to society and have repeatedly proven that I changed my ways and have given so much back to the communities I am a part of. The criminal in my current case is the Ministry of the Interior, which has repeatedly broken the law to prevent me from becoming a citizen.
I sumbitted my application on May 9th 2018, and the law required a timely response, but I had to wait until January 20th 2019 for my first answer. The reason given for the delay was an investigation into my criminal record. During the investigation, I was interviewed multiple times where I was asked questions such as:
"How could you be a convert, you don't look like a convert?"
"With your criminal record, how could your wife's parents be happy with you?
"You are Orthodox with a smartphone? How can that be?"
Following this investigation, the Ministry of the Interior denied me citizenship because my conversion was "unacceptable" without elaboration about what was "unacceptable" about it. This statement was absurd; my conversion not only met the standards for citizenship but had already been accepted by the State's religious authorities for marriage under Jewish law—a much stricter standard.
I submitted an appeal within the legally required timeframe, 21 days, but once again, I found that the Ministry of the Interior did not feel the need to follow the timeframe that the law required of them.
The law states that I should have received a written response within 45 days, and it took almost two years. Additionally, both denials was legally inadequate as the law requires they inform me of why my conversion was unacceptable.
During that waiting period we started doing everything imaginable to get a work visa. My wife was pregnant with our first child, so in addition to waiting for a response to the appeal we applied for a work visa based on our marriage.
The Ministry of the Interior denied this request, but at least this time, we were given a clear, albeit ridiculous, reason. The State of Israel could not accept any Israeli marriages for granting status in the country of Israel; Israel only accepted civil marriages performed in other countries. Meaning that since my wife was already a citizen, she was recognized as married, but I could not register as married to her.
The clerk was kind enough to inform us that this wasn't a problem at all. The Israeli marriage was proof I was Jewish and, therefore, just needed to make Aliyah. In his own words, "A quick and easy process."
Because I had written proof that the problem was my conversion and my criminal record was not mentioned, the Jewish Agency agreed to advocate on my behalf. They negotiated an arrangement. The Ministry of the Interior would provide me with a work visa, and I would give the Ministry of the Interior a written statement saying I understood that they did not recognize me as married.
With my wife due to give birth any day, we didn't have much choice. I went into the Minstry of Interior’s office to write that statement on the day after our daughter was born. I had to leave Tamar, my wife, and our newborn baby in the hospital to admit I wasn't considered married by the state authorities.
While I was waiting in the Ministry of the Interior to give this statement, my wife called. She was crying—an administrator had told her that she would not be allowed to leave the hospital until we paid a 5,000 shekel bill.
Because she was married to a foreign national Bituach Leumi, the national insurance in Israeli, didn't automatically cover the cost of the birth, as it does for all other citizens. Leaving us with the bill in case it was not covered.
After a meeting with the financial administrator, she agreed to let us leave if we wrote the hospital a security check for 5,000 shekels. If Tamar went to Bituach Leumi and brought a certificate from them to the hopital stating she would be covered they would return our check instead of cashing it.
So instead of resting in bed with our daughter, Tamar spent her first day out of the hospital, standing in line and riding buses with our three-day-old daughter to avoid an unexpected hospital bill.
And our newborn daughter, so young that we hadn’t even named her yet, was introduced to the bureaucratic labyrinth of the State of Israel. Her birthright for being unfortunate enough to have me as her father.
I spent the day in tears, having realizing I had selfishly turned Tamar into a second class citizen and brought a child into this world and immediatly had the sins of her father laid upon her.
We continued to try to get a response and work with the Jewish Agency. Then the Jewish Agency hit an obstacle. The Ministry told them, off the record, that my conversion was acceptable; the problem was my criminal record. When the Jewish Agency asked the Ministry of the Interior why they had written me an official denial stating the opposite, the Ministry of the Interior stated that they couldn’t respond to the Jewish Agency because my file was confidential. Because of this the Ministry of the Interior could only discuss that information directly with me.
This statement might have been reasonable, except the Ministry of the Interior also stated they were unwilling to contact me regarding my file. This contradiction was acceptable enough for the Jewish Agency, which informed me they would not continue to advocate on my behalf.
After this set back, we opened a file with the Ombudsman in an attempt to get the Ministry of the Interior to respond to my appeal. But the request from the Ombudsman was ignored as well. When we followed up with the Ombudsman, they told us that they didn't know what to do in this situation—by law the Ministry of the Interior has to answer them. But since the Minsitry of the Interior didn’t if we heard anything, we should update the Ombudsman office.
We were both US citizens, so we decided to fly abroad to get a civil marriage that Israel would recognize. This step was a risk because during my original waiting period I was detained, interrogated, and threatened with deportation when returning from a trip to take a workshop.
Our trip was successful, and we were married a second time. And we successfully got back into the country, but I was still unable to register as married to my wife. The reason:
She was already married—to me.
Until this point, the appalling treatment I have received from the Ministry of the Interior was not newsworthy. The office is so broken and inefficient that everyone seems to have a horror story involving their bureaucracy.
But being unable to marry my wife because she was married to me was enough to get me on the cover of a national newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, and an evening news segment on Kan, the state news broadcaster of Israel.
The Ministry suddenly decided that my conversion was acceptable in response to this negative coverage. This change meant I didn't need my wife for status in the country, which fixed the marriage problem, and meant that I was official eligible for citizenship under the Right of Return.
But I was refused again because the Ministry of the Interior needed to deal with my criminal record. The three and a half years I had already been in the country, without incident, and my character references were not enough proof that I likely did not endanger public welfare.
These character references included multiple well-known Rabbis and congregations in both the United States and Israel, current and former members of the Israeli Knesset, a retired US Air Force Colonel, an Assistant Attorney General of the State of Maryland, and an active member of the Baltimore Police Department.
The Ministry now wanted a trial period. A completely open-ended period allowing them to delay the decision to grant me citizenship indefinitely. I was informed that I would need to renew my visa every year.
The first year of this period has passed, making four and a half years since I arrived in Israel. I went to my yearly appointment with high hopes for citizenship, but instead, I was told to fill out more forms and the Ministry offered to renew my visa.
The law is clear. Either I am "likely to endanger public welfare" and should not be allowed in the country at all, or I am not likely to endanger public welfare and am entitled to automatic citizenship.
And even if I were likely to endanger public welfare, I would still have the right to a just process and humane treatment.
I have been extraordinarily patient in the face of this ongoing abuse. But now I am demanding my Teudat Oleh immediately. I am official on a hunger strike and on my way to the Ministry of the Interior where I intend to stay until my request is granted and I have a Teudat Oleh in my hand.
If I am arrested and put in prison, I will continue my hunger strike and return to the Ministry the moment I am released. It is heartbreaking that the bureaucracy in Israel has gotten so bad that one must go on a hunger strike or light themselves on fire to be heard. But this is the current state of our governmental systems.
I will no longer be a Jew with trembling knees because my oppressor is the Jewish State.