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Israel Won’t Recognize Ugandan Jews

By Published June 13, 2018

In a swift reaction to last week’s news that Israel had ruled not to recognise the Ugandan Jewish community, the chair of the council of elders of the Jewish Community in Uganda, Joab Jonadab Keki says they are not bothered by the decision of the Israeli government not to recognise them because the only recognition they want is from God and not by any state on earth.

Israeli's Interior ministry had denied the first and only request of a Ugandan Jew, Kibitz Yosef, to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return and asked him to leave the county by June 14, 2018.

"For me, if I am recognised by God, I feel like that would be the best - not for me to be recognised by the state of Israel or any state. For me, I believe that God knows what I am. So if I get a call from God that you’re not recognised then that would be hard for me," Keki said.

Asked what he thinks could have prompted the Israeli government to reject them, Keki pointed to their conversion by Conservative rabbis. "The Jews of Uganda are denied in Israel because their conversion was not made by the Orthodox rabbis, it was made by Conservative rabbis. Aand in Israel, the recognised section is Orthodox and that might be the reason why the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda are not recognised," he said.

The head of the Conservative movement’s rabbinical organization have also criticized Israel’s decision.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who leads the Rabbinical Assembly, said the Conservative movement was “shocked and extremely outraged” at the decision, which she called “unlawful.”

“This is completely inconsistent with more than two decades of Israeli practice of Conservative converts — who are by the way halakhically converted to Judaism under our auspices — who had been recognized as Jewish for the purposes of the Law of Return.”

The Law of Return gives anyone who has a Jewish grandparent, is married to a Jew or has converted to Judaism the right to move to Israel.

The Uganda Jewish community, also called the Abayudaya, numbers approximately 2,000, they are thought to have embraced Judaism as far back as the early 20th century. Most members were converted under the auspices of U.S. Conservative rabbis and thus are not recognized as Jewish by Israel’s mostly haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

In 2016, the Jewish Agency for Israel recognized the community for the purposes of the Law of Return, seemingly opening a path for its members to immigrate to Israel. However, the Abuyudaya have struggled to obtain recognition to do so.

In December, Israel denied visa application by a member of the community to study at a yeshiva in Israel, leading to accusations of racism.

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