With the formation of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, including the appointment of an ultra-orthodox leader to head the Interior Ministry, it was only a matter of time before Messianic Jews were targeted. The time has come. Three recent Israeli Supreme Court decisions will undermine attempts by Messianic Jews to immigrate to Israel. First, some background:
All Jews or those with Jewish heritage (minimum of a Jewish grandparent) can immigrate to Israel and become immediate Israeli citizens. The authorizing law is known as the Law of Return. It was first enacted in 1950 and has been amended a few times. The most recent amendment in 1970 excluded Jews who had converted to another religion. In a 1989 case, the Supreme Court found that Messianic Jews had converted to another religion and thus could not immigrate under the Law of Return. Throughout the years, depending upon which party controlled the Ministry of Interior (the agency overseeing immigration to Israel), the government’s enforcement of the exclusion against Messianic Jews was mixed. Now, it seems the government is aggressively investigating and pursuing Messianic Jews for exclusion.
Several years ago, the Supreme Court approved a settlement agreement between the government and a group of Messianic Jewish plaintiffs to permit the immigration of Messianic Jews where only the individuals’ fathers were Jewish. The reasoning was that since Jewishness is determined through the mother, an individual solely born of a Jewish father was not technically Jewish and thus was not converting to another religion if Messianic. (I realize the reasoning is pretty twisted). Our oldest daughter was one of the plaintiffs in the case, and she received her citizenship as a result of the agreement.
A few months ago that decision was undercut. The government had denied the immigration application of a Messianic Jew, whose father was Jewish. Upon petitioning the Court, even with the earlier precedent, the Supreme Court indicated interest in re-looking at the issue. In this case, the particular Messianic Jew was a well-known and active missionary to Jews in Israel. The Court agreed with the government that even in cases where the person is technically not Jewish (because of Jewish ancestry through the father only), the earlier ruling in favor of such individuals was not applicable because of the missionary activity of the Messianic Jew. Of course, the question then becomes what is missionary activity. According to statutory law, the only illegal missionary activity in Israel is seeking to convert minors or using bribes to lure conversions.
A second case was decided that potentially further limits the rights of Messianic Jews. In this case, the parties were not Messianic. Rather, the case was brought by an organization of Progressive Judaism. It’s unclear what religion or belief system the plaintiffs subscribed to, but the government denied their application for immigration based upon the fact that the Law of Return was designed to assist Jews to immigrate to Israel, not non-Jews. Once again the plaintiffs did have clear Jewish ancestry that normally would qualify them for citizenship. In a stunning development, the Supreme Court agreed with the government’s position and upheld the denial of citizenship. The organization bringing the case has appealed the decision to a larger body of Supreme Court justices (the normal case is heard by three justices but can be appealed to a fuller body).
The third case was heard last week. A young couple that we know, close friends of our girls, had applied for citizenship based upon the Jewishness of her father. Again, the Ministry of Interior denied the application, despite the fact that her father and mother had immigrated successfully to Israel several years ago and live here. Armed with the previous two precedents, the Ministry aggressively argued against our friends, claiming they were also missionaries. They pulled out of their hat an old email about reaching out to Jews. Nothing was shown about their activity in Israel over the past three and a half years that they’ve lived here. Based on the questioning and comments of the judges, our friends saw that the case was a lost cause. They withdrew their case just before a decision was reached. The Court then ordered them out of the country by July 1, with their three young children.
As a result of these decisions, Messianic Jews considering immigrating to Israel at this time must be able to fly under the radar or face exclusion, including those only with Jewish ancestry. The government is arguing that simply being a Messianic Jew means the individual is a missionary. This has been the standard argument of the Ministry of Interior for years, but now the Court seems to be in agreement. As I have shared numerous times, Messianic Jews and Christians should reconsider the unqualified support given to the Netanyahu government. As long as it agrees to a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties, Messianic Jews will be targets. It’s time for a governmental change. Please pray for the family who was recently denied citizenship. The decision created a huge family upheaval. Also, pray for a change in government, particularly as to which party oversees the Ministry of Interior. If you know of Messianic Jews contemplating immigration to Israel, please have them contact us first at firstname.lastname@example.org.